The security dilemma of smart factories [Part 1] Specificity of the programming languages used to move industrial robots

Industrial robots are the core of the automation of manufacturing processes in smart factories, and are the most important components as they support the manufacture of all kinds of products such as automobiles, aircraft, processed foods, and pharmaceuticals. In addition, as equipment that realizes unmanned manufacturing in the post-COVID-19 world where minimal or no contact is a necessity, the importance of industrial robots that can repeatedly execute specified movements with high accuracy is regaining attention. However, it is not commonly known that industrial robots are programmed using languages designed decades ago. Trend Micro has been conducting cybersecurity research on smart factories since 2017, and discovered vulnerabilities in “automation programs” that define the behavior of industrial robots and also design flaws in “programming languages”.

These languages are legacy languages that were designed decades ago, but they continue to be used for purposes such as maintaining compatibility with successor models and reducing the burden of re-learning, and are a technology that is still being used in modern smart factories. In this series, based on the results of our third joint research project with the Polytechnic University of Milan, from a short to long-term perspective, we analyze the design security risks involved in legacy languages and risk mitigation measures that all users of industrial robots should take. In this first installment, we will explain the characteristics of industrial robots and the background, purpose, scope, and survey method used to conduct this research.

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Source: Trend Micro