Researchers craft network attack to “hack” surgical robot (sort of)

As part of a series of experiments, a group of researchers at the University of Washington's BioRobotics Lab launched denial-of-service attacks against a remotely-operated surgical robot, causing it to become difficult to control. The goal was to help design systems that could correct for such attacks and filter them out by identifying legitimate commands from the operator.

The robot used in the test was an experimental system, however, and it used a different networking approach from existing FDA-approved surgical robots. The researchers admitted that mounting such an attack on current surgical robots would be much more difficult. Rather than finding security flaws in existing robots, the researchers focused on finding ways to secure future "telerobots" that might use public network infrastructure not just for surgery, but other life-saving tasks such as fire fighting, explosive ordnance disposal, and searching collapsed buildings after earthquakes.

Today, the vast majority of robotic surgeries are carried out over hardwired, dedicated local networks in hospitals. But there have been a number of cases where physicians have remotely performed surgery via robot—most notably, during the war in Iraq. New surgical robots could potentially be applied to assist people with life-threatening conditions in the wake of disasters, since they reduce the complications that could be caused by transporting patients to distant hospitals.

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