The importance of cybersecurity in industrial robots

For end users of industrial robots, cybersecurity needs to be a business priority in order to protect the company from hacking that can cause safety issues or defects that lose the company money.

06/13/2017


Security firm Trend Micro, along with Italy's Politecnico Milano, have spent the last year and a half researching cybersecurity vulnerabilities in industrial robots. The results reveal multiple vulnerabilities in today's industrial robots. While the company has since fixed the vulnerabilities they found in an industrial robotic arm, the results of their research point to a broader need for tightened security for industrial robots.

What are the consequences of poor cybersecurity in industrial robotics?

In an effort to boost productivity, current industrial robots can be connected to the larger Internet of Things (IoT), and like all other IoT devices, this potentially leaves them vulnerable to hacks.

For example, if a robotic arm is hacked, the hacker can take full control of the arm, with nearly limitless possibilities of what could come next. They could potentially cause the robot arm to extend past the limits of its reach, ultimately breaking it. A robot could be recalibrated by a few millimeters without anyone ever noticing, leading to mass-scale recalls. Small changes to the robots' programming could cause a loss of revenue all from a remote location.

Beyond productivity concerns, there are obvious safety concerns too, especially considering the use of robots in the medical field. There are potential dangers to technicians if a robotic arm is hacked and turned on while maintenance is being performed.

How can industrial robot users ensure proper cybersecurity?

It's not all doom and gloom for industrial robot users. In fact, quite the opposite. There will be 1.3 million more industrial robots deployed in 2018. Robots are continually becoming more productive and safer in the workplace.

For end users, ensuring sound cybersecurity for their industrial robots begins in the sourcing stage. It's best to align with a systems integrator who takes safety and security seriously. This provides benefits over and over again in the long-term, as most integrators perform ongoing service and maintenance—part of which may include cyber security measures.

In addition to this, Frederico Maggi said that end users can't ignore software updates for their industrial robots. Often times, they are neglected in an attempt to minimize production downtime. Software updates include key cybersecurity updates and failing to stay on top of the latest security measures can leave industrial robots vulnerable.

There are measures end users can take to ensure cybersecurity and ultimately find return on investment (ROI) and productivity through investment in robotics. Hacking is only a concern when cyber security is neglected.

For end users of industrial robots, cybersecurity needs to be a business priority not only to maintain productivity levels but to protect employees and investments in automation.

This article originally appeared on the Robotics Industries' Association (RIA) Robotics Online Blog. RIA is a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to improving the regional, national and global competitiveness of the North American manufacturing and service sectors through robotics and related automation. The RIA is a part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Carly Marchal, content specialist, CFE Media, cmarchal@cfemedia.com.

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