People are increasingly using household robots for chores, communication, entertainment and companionship. But safety and privacy risks of information-gathering objects that move around our homes are not yet adequately addressed, according to a new University of Washington study.
It’s not a question of evil robots, but of robots that can be misused.
“A lot of attention has been paid to robots becoming more intelligent and turning evil,” said co-author Tadayoshi Kohno, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering. “But there is a much greater and more near-term risk, and that’s bad people who can use robots to do bad things.”
He and colleagues discovered security weaknesses in three robots currently on the market. They presented the findings last week at the International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing in Orlando, Fla. Co-authors are UW graduate students Tamara Denning, Cynthia Matuszek and Karl Koscher and UW affiliate faculty member Joshua Smith.
During 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 concerns the researchers uncovered with the wireless robots include the fact that:
- The robots’ presence is easily detected by distinctive messages sent over the home’s wireless network.
- 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.
- Only some robots periodically generate a noise or other signal when stationary, reminding people nearby that the robot is collecting data.
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