Security, privacy risks of household robots

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Washington, Oct 9 (ANI): While people are increasingly using household robots for chores, communication, entertainment and companionship, researchers have raised alarm over the security and privacy risks linked with these information-gathering objects that move around homes.

A new University of Washington study discovered security weaknesses in three robots currently on the market.

"A lot of attention has been paid to robots becoming more intelligent and turning evil. But there is a much greater and more near-term risk, and that's bad people who can use robots to do bad things," said co-author Tadayoshi Kohno.

In the past year, the team ran tests to evaluate the security of three consumer-level robots: the WowWee Rovio- a wireless, buglike rolling robot marketed to adults as a home surveillance tool that can be controlled over the Internet and includes a video camera, microphone and speaker, the Erector Spykee-a toy wireless Web-controlled "spy" robot that has a video camera, microphone and speaker, and the WowWee RoboSapien V2-a more dexterous toy robot controlled over short distances using an infrared remote control.

The researchers found that the robots' presence is easily detected by distinctive messages sent over the home's wireless network.

In addition, there were concerns that the robots' audio and video streams can be intercepted on the home's wireless network or in some cases captured over the Internet.

Only some robots give an audible or other alert when a user logs on, letting people nearby know that someone new is accessing the data.

And few robots periodically generate a noise or other signal when stationary, reminding people nearby that the robot is collecting data.

The authors also identified scenarios in which a robot might physically harm its owner or the home environment.

While the risks today are relatively small, researchers said that the risks would become more serious as robots become more widespread.

"These are technologies that are being used in the home. The attacks here are very simple. But the consequences can be quite serious," noted Tamara Denning, another co-author of the study.

"In the future people may have multiple robots in the home that are much more capable and sophisticated," Denning added. "Security and privacy risks with future household robots will likely be more severe, which is why we need to start addressing robot security and privacy today," he added.

But, the researchers said that the owners of household robots can do some simple things to significantly increase their security, such as turning on encryption for a home wireless network, and disabling Internet access to the robot's controls.

They presented the findings at the International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing in Orlando, Fla. (ANI)

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