HoneyBot, the robot that fights corporate hackers

Developed at Georgia Tech University, the robot provides false data to hackers while simultaneously alerting workers that it has been tampered with

Internet of Things devices remain the biggest danger to users and companies. Increasingly common within factories, connected machinery is proving to be a real risk to workers' safety and a company's bottom line. While they help businesses speed up and improve production, they are also a danger to a company's stability.

Connected machinery and any IoT device inside a factory are an easy target for hackers and malicious parties. Although their cost is very high (over a thousand euros), they do not have protection systems up to the mark. Very often it is enough to discover the password that protects them to take control, and in most cases the security key is "0000". In other cases, hackers take advantage of flaws in a company's security system, and SMEs don't have the funds to hire security specialists, so they outsource the job to family and friends.

A solution to protect small and medium-sized businesses from hackers comes from the United States. Researchers at Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering have created HoneyBot, a robot that can protect connected facilities from hacker attacks and alert workers when an attempt to tamper with them is underway.

How HoneyBot Works

HoneyBot is in every way a connected device: it can be controlled remotely via a computer and allows access to motion sensor data. It is so easy to use that it can be hacked in seconds: a hacker can take control of it and decide what to make the robot do. In reality, HoneyBot doesn't grant hackers' "wishes": it sends a simulated response to the robot's commands without completing the action. On the contrary. It automatically understands when a hacker takes control of it and immediately warns workers of the danger at hand. If installed inside a production line, HoneyBot would immediately warn of a hacking attack in progress and allow the company to take appropriate countermeasures.

Researchers have conducted several tests on HoneyBot and all have been successful. But before putting it on the market, the robot needs to be improved and become smarter.

HoneyBot's problems

As stated by the researchers themselves, HoneyBot is not yet perfect and a crafty hacker can very easily figure out that the robot is not responding to its commands: just analyze the accelerometer data to understand what the machine is doing and if it is following the tasks sent. The next few months will be devoted precisely to hiding this kind of information and making hackers' lives more complicated.