August 24, 2017 By Shane Schick 2 min read

A string of security weaknesses in areas such as default configurations, authentication mechanisms and open source components could enable cybercriminals to easily take over robots used in industrial settings, researchers warned.

An analysis of major industrial and collaborative robots, or cobots, by IOActive revealed close to 50 vulnerabilities that, if exploited, could harm the people who work with them. The firm created a series of videos to demonstrate what tampering with cobots could look like, including swinging robotic arms that have had safety features and emergency settings disabled.

Industrial Cobots Put Workers at Risk

The general public might not be familiar with cobots, but they are far more advanced than you might expect. Companies such as Rethink Robotics, Baxter/Sawyer and Universal Robots have designed cobots to assist human employees with various tasks, using microphones and cameras to see and hear, SecurityWeek reported. That potentially makes them even more dangerous if threat actors hijack them for malicious purposes.

Some of the biggest security holes the researchers discovered involve the way industrial cobots communicate, according to The Daily Mail, as well as poor password protection and lack of authentication. The research concluded that, in some cases, cybercriminals could gain remote access privileges with relative ease, giving them the ability to crush human skulls with a mechanical arm, for example.

Protecting Cobots From Cybercriminals

Bloomberg contacted several of the cobot manufacturers called out in the research, some of which said they were aware of the findings and were already working on fixes. A few did not respond or were unable to confirm whether all the potential holes had been patched. Given how widely cobots are being deployed in many industrial environments, however, there may be more pressure from customers to ensure that they’re safe from cybercriminals.

Even if cobots aren’t manipulated to attack human beings, they could also be used to spy on organizations, Threatpost suggested. Of course, there have been no reports of any such incidents yet.

As more companies are starting to pay attention to security risks associated with the Internet of Things (IoT), cobots may become another endpoint that requires increased vigilance as threat actors learn more about the potential to turn them to their advantage.

More from

Change Healthcare discloses $22M ransomware payment

3 min read - UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty found himself answering questions in front of Congress on May 1 regarding the Change Healthcare ransomware attack that occurred in February. During the hearing, he admitted that his organization paid the attacker's ransomware request. It has been reported that the hacker organization BlackCat, also known as ALPHV, received a payment of $22 million via Bitcoin.Even though they made the ransomware payment, Witty shared that Change Healthcare did not get its data back. This is a…

Phishing kit trends and the top 10 spoofed brands of 2023

4 min read -  The 2024 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index reported that phishing was one of the top initial access vectors observed last year, accounting for 30% of incidents. To carry out their phishing campaigns, attackers often use phishing kits: a collection of tools, resources and scripts that are designed and assembled to ease deployment. Each phishing kit deployment corresponds to a single phishing attack, and a kit could be redeployed many times during a phishing campaign. IBM X-Force has analyzed thousands of…

How I got started: AI security researcher

4 min read - For the enterprise, there’s no escape from deploying AI in some form. Careers focused on AI are proliferating, but one you may not be familiar with is AI security researcher. These AI specialists are cybersecurity professionals who focus on the unique vulnerabilities and threats that arise from the use of AI and machine learning (ML) systems. Their responsibilities vary, but key roles include identifying and analyzing potential security flaws in AI models and developing and testing methods malicious actors could…

Topic updates

Get email updates and stay ahead of the latest threats to the security landscape, thought leadership and research.
Subscribe today