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The Rise of the Robots and the Emerging Security Challenges

The Rise of the Robots and the Emerging Security Challenges

rise-of-robots-and-security-challenges
January 4, 2022 | Anastasios Arampatzis

The Industry 4.0 digital revolution is integrating robots more than ever into such different industries as agriculture, medicine, healthcare, law enforcement and logistics. Robots are programmed to serve, facilitate and enhance human life. Not surprisingly, however, these benefits also come with security challenges, most notably weak machine identity management controls. These challenges include maliciously hijacking and controlling robots, causing serious economic and financial losses.

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The rise of the robots

The robotics revolution is rapidly accelerating. The convergence of innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning, along with advances in robotics engineering and energy storage, is transforming the capabilities of robots, leading to greater adoption by more and more industries worldwide.

According to a report by Oxford Economics, the number of robots in use worldwide has multiplied three times over the past two decades, reaching 2.25 million as of 2019. The same report suggests that the global stock of robots will multiply even faster in the next 20 years, reaching as many as 20 million by 2030—with 14 million in China alone. Robotization also will impact the workforce. The econometric modeling developed by Oxford Economics indicates that on average, each newly installed robot displaces 1.6 manufacturing workers. By 2030, the research estimates that as many as 20 million additional manufacturing jobs worldwide could be displaced due to robotization.

The rise of robotics and the era of automation present significant opportunities for businesses to boost productivity. The automotive sector has long been the predominant user of robots: innovations in autonomous and electric vehicle manufacturing requires increasingly sophisticated production chains, which this has sparked demand for more powerful, and intelligent machines to build them. However, other manufacturing industries are now taking a more active role in robot use. For example, the share of new robot installations in high tech manufacturing grew to 31% in 2016, up from 21% in 2000, indicating a rapid growth in the integration of robots into production.

The analysis made by Oxford Economics demonstrates that there are three main drivers behind this increased pace of robotics adoption:

  • Price: The rapid expansion in robot installations is driven by the plummeting real costs of the machines. The average unit price of a robot fell by 11% between 2011 and 2016.
  • Innovative applications: As robot technologies improve, they are being used in more sophisticated processes and in more varied contexts, and they can be installed more rapidly.
  • Consumer demand: Much of the growth in robot stock over the past decade can be attributed to rising demand for manufactured goods.
Security challenges of robots

Despite the great advantages and the benefits of robotics, there are several security concerns that can potentially affect both humans and machines. A report by researchers Jean-Paul A. Yaacoub, Ola Salman, and Ali Chehab of the American University of Beirut, and Hassan N. Noura, University Bourgogne Franche-Comté, has identified and classified these challenges:

  1. Lack of secure networking that renders the communication between robots and humans insecure and prone to various attacks.
  2. Lack of proper authentication with the use of weak and insecure passwords instead of TLS or SSH machine identities. These passwords can be easily compromised and lead to unauthorized access.
  3. Lack of confidentiality due to the use of weak encryption algorithms, leading to the interception and exposure of robotic sensitive data and design plans.
  4. Lack of privacy can result in the exposure of sensitive intellectual property, personal data and critical business secrets.
  5. Lack of integrity due to the use of weak message authentication protocols that can be easily compromised, leading to the alteration of robotic sensitive data, stored or in transit.
  6. Lack of strong machine identity verification to prevent any abuse of privilege or unauthorized access.
  7. Lack of authorization to restrict physical access based on the assigned access controls inside robotic labs, factories and industries.
  8. Lack of safety designs creating hazardous conditions that can be lethal and threatening towards humans and the environment, besides the obvious financial losses.
  9. Lack of security by-design features leads to breaking into the robotic system’s architecture and design to scan and exploit its vulnerabilities and security gaps for further attacks, including malicious data injection and modification.
How to minimize security risks

Robotic systems suffer from several security vulnerabilities that can be exploited to launch dangerous attacks. This can have drastic consequences on these infrastructures escalating from economic losses all the way to national security and loss of human lives. Such attacks are possible due to the lack of security by design of robotic systems and the reliance on open wireless communication channels.

An integral component of securing robots is to establish a robust authentication process based on strong machine identities. This process should be designed to reach the highest possible security level by employing a mutual multifactor authentication scheme. This helps in reducing the illegal access to robots. On the other hand, lightweight cryptographic algorithms and protocols, at the network and physical layer, are mandatory to ensure secure wireless communication. Moreover, privacy-preserving techniques should be used to ensure the privacy of legal entities.

The robots are ready. Are you ready to protect them? Learn how you can secure your robotic automation processes, by contacting us today.

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About the author

Anastasios Arampatzis
Anastasios Arampatzis

Anastasios Arampatzis is a retired Hellenic Air Force officer with over 20 years of experience in evaluating cybersecurity and managing IT projects. He works as an informatics instructor at AKMI Educational Institute, while his interests include exploring the human side of cybersecurity.

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