A team of security researchers from the University of Washington were able to successfully hack into a system that controls a surgery robot while it was undertaking a task.
The experiment was conducted by the team to test the vulnerability of telesurgery robots especially while they are in the process of performing surgeries, which could yield potentially deadly consequences.
The security researchers launched three consecutive attacks against the surgery robot, and each attack has proven itself successful in revealing the alarming consequences that security breaches can bring about if and when the android’s vulnerability is taken advantage of by hackers.
Tamara Bonaci and her team conducted the experiment on a Raven II, a telesurgery robot equipped with two surgical arms, which can be remotely controlled through haptic feedback via a console that uses a video.
The Raven II is among the handful other telesurgery robots that can run on regular PCs, and does not require a secure connection to transmit signals. This surgery robot can connect even through public networks.
To transmit signals, it uses the standard communications protocol, which means it’s naked and has no security feature whatsoever that can protect it from any type of hostile attack.
During the first attack, the surgery robot’s movements started to become unstable and have proven difficult to control.
On the second attack, the hackers were able to damage the surgery robot’s precision, causing it to move its surgical arms to the wrong region.
On the third and final attack, the hackers were able to successfully take over complete control of the surgery robot.
The first two attacks launched on the telesurgery robot have shown that fatal consequences could actually stem from these security breaches, even when the hackers have not yet gained complete control over the surgery robot.
But the third and final attack showed the most alarming consequence, as it appears that anyone going under the knife with the robot as his surgeon can be put to death by anyone who can bypass the telesurgery robot’s system.
To add to these disturbances, the security researchers also found that they can jam the telesurgery robot’s system and cause the surgery robot to go on an automatic stop mechanism— meaning it will just automatically shut down by itself and the patient undergoing surgery can be left open and unconscious on the table.
But Bonaci and her colleagues have come up with a simple solution that should permanently deter these potential security breaches from ever happening.
“The use of encryption and authentication has low cost and high benefits to telerobotic surgery, mitigating many analysed attacks,” the security researchers concluded.