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Friday, March 10, 2023

Collaborative Robots and their Security

Collaboration among robots and further with humans, will become crucial

Cobots and their security

Fending off Cyberattacks on Collaborative Robots  (CoBots)

By David Geer, Commissioned by CACM Staff, February 28, 2023

Collaborative robots (known as cobots) are used in a wide variety of ways and in very diverse application areas.

Collaborative robots, or cobots, count on Internet of Things (IoT) devices, telemetry data, software programming, and remote control for operation, productivity, and safety. These systems and devices present unique opportunities for attack.

Cyberattacks use IoT and Industrial IoT (IIoT) device vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to cobots. "IoT and IIoT devices connect to cobots via TCP/IP Ethernet to communicate inputs and instructions and to gain data," says Jim McKenney, practice director, Industrials & Operational Technologies at NCC Group, a cyberthreat management company.

According to McKenney, IoT devices collect a range of data from cobots, including performance metrics such as speed, accuracy, and energy consumption. The devices and data are vulnerable if someone has improperly configured those or if the security is weak, he says.

Vulnerable devices enable hacker reconnaissance of cobot systems. "Cybercriminals can collect information about the cobot's configuration, operating system, or communication protocols to develop customized malware," says Yair Attar, co-founder and CTO of OTORIO, an Operational Technology (OT) environment monitoring provider.

Malware inserts backdoors in systems, providing criminal hackers with remote access. Cybercriminals use command and control servers and bots to orchestrate automated attacks, leveraging and increasing access across networks and devices. Cobots are connected devices, a form of IIoT. The basic principles of attack on them do not differ from any other network-based attack. 

In fact, cobots are not necessarily the primary targets in these attacks. "Malware can spread laterally to devices on the network, causing wide, detrimental effects," says Francis Dinha, co-founder and CEO of OpenVPN, Inc.,  a private networking and cybersecurity company with clients in IoT.

Criminal hackers can live off the land, using remote control tools IT has already installed with the cobots, such as Secure Shell (SSH).

Attackers can use cobots' SSH connections for remote access to change uncompiled scripted code or gcode files to reconfigure the cobot to perform all the wrong motions, explains Michael Nizich, director of the Entrepreneurship & Technology Innovation Center and Cyber Defense Education at New York Institute of Technology.

While some cobot installations don't have SSH access, others have advanced SSH connections, according to Nizich, depending on the control board, operating system, and other installation factors.

"Advanced SSH connection support provides an outside user full access to the robot's operating system and controls and the software and scripts on the system that control the cobot's behaviors," says Nizich.

Unfortunately, it is often trivial for criminal hackers to learn these connection options and find cobots to attack. "Many times, vendors publicly advertise the features of software and hardware systems to make them more attractive from a sales perspective. Users discuss the intricate details of the system's functionality on blogs and vlogs as they attempt to troubleshoot issues with the help of other system users," explains Nizich.... '  .... 

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