Navigating Cybersecurity in the Age of AI/ML-Driven Security Robots and Connected Endpoints

Rise of AI-Driven, Connected Security Robots

In the past 5 years, a number of viable security robotics solutions have been introduced to the physical security marketplace. These security robots perform key physical security functions like roving patrols, real-time alarm response, and Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) inspections. To effectively and adequately perform these functions, these security robots often need to be connected to business-critical physical security systems and building infrastructure, such as WiFi, Elevator Systems, Video Monitoring, and Access Control Systems. However, connecting a security robot to these sensitive systems inadvertently creates new entry points for cyber security threats. 

This blog post explores common cyber threats posed by security robots and offers proactive solutions to mitigate these threats. By embracing these proactive measures, physical security managers can ensure that their AI-driven security robots are not just powerful tools in their security arsenal, but also remain resilient against the evolving landscape of cyber threats.

The Cybersecurity Risks of Security Robots

Connecting a security robot to your internal building and physical security infrastructure can present several challenges.

Unauthorized Access and Data Breach

Security robots can serve as entry points for unauthorized users, including hackers, to access your network. This risk is heightened if these devices are not properly secured or if the vendor’s own security measures are inadequate. Sensitive data, including employee personal information, security logs, and access patterns, could be compromised if a security robot is breached. This can lead to privacy violations and legal consequences.

Network Vulnerability

The integration of a security robot into your internal network can also create network vulnerabilities, especially if the device has security flaws or outdated software. This can make your network susceptible to malware, ransomware, and other cyber attacks.

In interconnected systems, a breach in one component can lead to widespread compromise throughout your network. For example, if your security robot is hacked, it could potentially compromise your access control system and allow physical access to unauthorized individuals.

Securely Deploying Your Security Robots

Despite these risks, security robots can be and are safely deployed to secure physical environments. Implementing the following controls will help ensure your security robot and corporate networks do not get compromised.

Conduct a Vendor Security Assessment

The purpose of a Vendor Security Assessment (VSA) is to ensure the vendor follows a baseline level of industry standard controls to prevent common cyber breaches. The VSA analyzes the vendor’s ability to protect the customer against threats to several critical components. It is important to consider the following when assessing a security robot provider:

Hardware Security: 
  • Does the vendor implement tamper-proofing mechanisms on the robot, like port blockers? 
  • How does the vendor detect if the robot is being tampered with? 
  • Does the vendor implement an embedded hardware security module, like a TPM, for sensitive key storage and cryptographic operations?
Software Security: 
  • Does the vendor provide regular security patches for the robot and associated cloud services? 
  • Does the vendor regularly scan for software vulnerabilities and remediate vulnerabilities in a timely manner?
  • Does the vendor implement a secure software development lifecycle?
Data Encryption: 
  • Does the vendor encrypt data in transit (over the network) and at rest (storage)? 
  • Does the vendor use strong, industry standard cryptographic protocols? 
  • Does the vendor implement industry standards for encryption key management policies?
Access Control: 
  • Does the vendor implement a role-based access control system for sensitive data access? 
  • Is user access limited on a needs-to-know basis? 
  • Is multi-factor authentication required for user accounts? 
Network Security: 
  • Does the vendor implement firewalls and intrusion prevention systems? 
  • How does the vendor detect unauthorized access attempts on their network?
  • Has the vendor conducted 3rd party penetration testing against their network?

Pro Tip: When conducting the assessment, make sure to ask the vendor for evidence that they actually have implemented the relevant controls.

If you’re designing a VSA for the first time, the Cloud Security Alliance provides a generic security questionnaire that can be easily modified to fit your organization’s needs.

Limit Robot Access Permissions

When integrating your security robot into your physical security program, use the principle of least privileged access to limit the risk of information leakage. The least privilege principle limits access for users, processes, applications, systems, and IoT devices to only what’s necessary for their roles, reducing security risks and potential disruptions. Here are some common examples:

    • DO NOT grant permission to change alarm configurations. If the security robot needs access to access control data like alarms and badge access events, grant read-only permissions for alarms and limit the badge access fields the robot has access to.
    • DO NOT grant permissions like overriding the operation of an elevator car or putting the entire elevator bank in maintenance mode. If the security robot needs to take the elevators, grant basic permissions like calling elevator cars and tracking elevator cars.
    • DO NOT grant permission to access employee personal information like names and email addresses. In most cases, an employee’s badge number will uniquely identify an employee, so the robot may not need access to personally identifiable information.

Air Gap the Robot’s Network Access

In interconnected systems, a breach in one component can lead to widespread compromise. Physical security technology and building infrastructure are especially at risk of widespread compromise, because these technologies are often secured via isolation from the rest of the world. Care is taken to prevent access to the network in the first place, but once a bad actor has gained access to the network, these systems are often entirely unsecured or secured with simple credentials like “ADMIN” and “PASSWORD.”

The safest way to deploy a security robot is to put it on a network that’s isolated from your sensitive internal networks. Start with zero access and use a firewall rule policy to “ALLOW LIST” access to company internal systems. This ensures that the security robot is not accidentally granted access to sensitive information it does not need to access.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the integration of AI-driven, connected security robots represents a significant leap forward in the realm of physical security. These advanced systems offer unparalleled efficiency, adaptability, and coverage, making them a viable and potent solution for modern security challenges. However, as with any technological advancement, they bring new complexities, particularly in the cybersecurity domain.

It is crucial for physical security managers to recognize that while these systems carry potential risks and vulnerabilities, these can be effectively managed with the right strategies and safeguards. By prioritizing cybersecurity in the deployment and operation of AI-driven security robots, organizations can harness their full potential without compromising safety or privacy.

With thoughtful implementation and ongoing vigilance, security robots can indeed be a game-changer in physical security, offering both robust protection and peace of mind in our increasingly connected world.

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