How to Keep your Robot Safe

Nothing on the Internet of Things is safe from hacking, and any links offer opportunities for cybercriminals to potentially exploit for harmful purposes.  Here, we look at the main areas of threat and what you can do to keep your robot safe and secure.

The 3 main ways that industrial robots tend to be hacked at present are:

  • Theft of information: obviously this depends on the tasks the robots are deployed to complete. Whilst robots used to stack pallets may not be of much interest to hackers, robots used in critical sectors such as defence, aerospace and energy may contain more sensitive, and therefore more attractive, information to cybercrims.
  • Inflicting physical harm: this is where robots are hacked to introduce safety threats to the working environment. Examples here include where the robot reports back to its controller that it is powered down when it isn’t, or the robot is programmed to behave erratically.
  • Inserting microdefects: the robot is programmed to alter their processes and insert barely noticeable defects into the manufacturing. Again, this is dependent on the sector but the implications are potentially extremely serious for the food processing, aerospace, automotive and healthcare sectors.

Secure by Design

So what can be done to protect robots from being hacked?  Here are the key security issues which need to be addressed as a matter of course:

  • Insecure connections: the issue here is not the Bluetooth of wi-fi technology, as much as the transmission of data. Most data is unencrypted, and even some encryption methods can be hacked now.  Encrypting data is now not enough, it has to be smartly encrypted.
  • Insecure privacy protocols: reporting data remotely is a high-risk act, and strict privacy controls are required to reduce the potential points of entry for a hacker.
  • User authentication not strict enough: defining and authorising users may sound like an obvious process. Consider also using the Principle of Least Privilege – where users can only access the areas required for them to complete their tasks.
  • Default configuration security not tight: merely accepting the default settings could put your system at risk, as often these can be easily avoided. This covers the default configs, passwords, access levels, accounts and settings.

“With more complex systems”, says Liz Reid, MD of RNR Robot Solutions, “we work closely with customers to evaluate and mitigate all risks, which starts at the design stage of the project.  Furthermore, bug free software is critical to robotic systems – software is a primary entry point for cyberattackers”.

International Standards

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in agreement with the International Society of Automation (ISA) published a series of standards and technical reports that define procedures for implementing secure Industrial Automation and Control Systems (IACS). The standard provides guidance to those that create products, integrate systems, and operate industrial automation and control systems.

The ISA/IEC 62443 standard contains seven foundational requirements (FR). TÜV Rheinland’s Stanley recommends that robot manufacturers make sure their products meet as many of these requirements as possible.

  • FR 1 Identification and authentication control (IAC): protect the device by verifying the identity of and authenticating any user requesting access;
  • FR 2 Use control: protect against unauthorized actions on the device resources by verifying that the necessary privileges have been granted before allowing a user to perform the actions;
  • FR 3 System integrity: ensure the integrity of the application to prevent unauthorized manipulation;
  • FR 4 Data confidentiality: ensure the confidentiality of information on communication channels and in data repositories to prevent unauthorized disclosure;
  • FR 5 Restricted data flow: segment the control system via zones and conduits to limit the unnecessary flow of data;
  • FR 6 Timely response to events: respond to security violations by notifying the proper authority, reporting needed evidence of the violation, and taking timely corrective action when incidents are discovered; and
  • FR 7 Resource availability: ensure the availability of the application or device against the degradation or denial of essential services. If properly addressed, these requirements will reduce many cybersecurity risks across an industrial robot system.

Standards provide an easier way for companies to assess their suppliers and determine if they have the proper security protocols in place.  The key question to ask is: does my system meet ISA 62443?