Technology

High-Tech Japanese Hotel Finds Out Its Service Robots Are Easily Hackable

A researcher found that the robots can be hacked to spy on hotel guests.
October 25, 2019, 6:32am
tokyo skyline
The Tokyo skyline. Photo by Louie Martinez on Unsplash

This article originally appeared on VICE Asia

Japanese technology is the envy of people around the world. High-tech robots have become attractions in Tokyo, with restaurants and hotels in the city opting for these futuristic helpers. They’re efficient, entertaining, and interactive. But what happens when humans use them for bad rather than good?

It’s a scary thought that one Japanese hotel chain had to address recently, after a researcher found that their in-room robots were hackable. This means that the robots can be manipulated so that video footage from the room can be viewed by hackers remotely, The Register reported.

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HIS Hotel Holdings’ Henn na Hotel located in Maihama Tokyo Bay is staffed by pod-like robots called Tapia that assist in checking guests into their rooms. Using facial recognition, the robots verify guests’ identity before leading them to their respective rooms. Guests also have a bedside robot to assist them with other tasks. They can provide information on the weather and allow guests to shop online and connect their smartphones.

According to the Tokyo Reporter, the Henn na Hotel has 10 branches in various locations that use 100 Tapia robots.

This all sounds really cool, until security researcher Lance Vick warned in a tweet that the robots are easily hackable.

According to Vick, they were programmed with "unsigned code," allowing any user to tap an NFC tag to the back of the robot's head. This will let them access the robot’s camera and microphone via a streaming app of their choice.

Vick informed the hotel about this issue and offered them 90 days to act before publicizing the flaw.

After giving the hotel a final warning and hearing nothing, he decided to do a public hack on Oct. 12, releasing the details of how he did it on Twitter. This proved that hackers can gain access to the robots’ cameras and microphones, making watching and eavesdropping on anyone in the room possible.

Henn na Hotel released a statement in response to the hack, saying that it had removed the robots from the rooms, investigated them, and took countermeasures against unauthorised access.

HIS, the hotel chain owner, also tweeted: “We apologize for any uneasiness caused.”

While they’ve updated the robots, the company told the Tokyo Reporter, that the risks of unauthorised access were low.

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