Are Manufacturing Robots Easy to Hack?

I worked in a  manufacturing facility building very high scale integrated circuits as a consultant hired to help them with their cybersecurity and it was quite an eye-opener. For one thing, no person ever touched or actually manufactured production microchips. Only automated computer-controlled robots, many connected to networks that were on the internet.

The company when I got there had not had a cybersecurity audit in over a year. That is why I was hired as a consultant to study their cybersecurity and make recommendations. My first recommendation? Do much more frequent cybersecurity audits to keep up with the changes in the industry.

Other Studies

There was another study done by a respected cybersecurity firm and they found over 50 vulnerabilities in manufacturing robots. It was startling. Everything from using an open-source robot operating system, to hardware flaws, to transport protocols that were not protected.

They found that many manufacturing facilities do not protect their crown jewels which is these very expensive automated robots. Even more expensive is the manufacturing line itself that could be interrupted if there is a hack into the systems. The costs to a facility could be astronomical. The delays in production crippling to the company’s future.

Some Guidelines to Help

Start by always doing the updates. It is not enough to wait until an update is coming out you need to be actively looking for threats and vulnerabilities. Also, harden the facility consider protecting your robots like you would any other critical server with confidential data. Does it really need to be exposed to the corporate network? Does it need to be exposed to the internet? Almost certainly not.

Executives you will need to provide leadership in these areas to keep this serious potential problem under control. Robots are just another computer that needs to be protected. Probably one of your most critical computers. As part of your cybersecurity policies, you should have policies directly addressing any of your manufacturing robots. These areas cannot be left to chance. Stay ahead of the curve and be prepared.

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