February 24, 2014

Spotlight on Tech Policy Lab Scholar Tamara Bonaci

The Tech Policy Lab works to sponsor interesting tech events and the people involved. This week the Lab is co-sponsoring the Scholars’ Studio on Robot Research and Lab member Tamara Bonaci will be presenting her work. Tamara Bonaci is a Ph.D. Candidate in Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington and her research focuses on the security of teleoperated robotic systems and brain-computer interface systems. For Scholars’ Studio she will be presenting her current project where she is developing tools to prevent security threats in telerobotics by dynamically monitoring and detecting malicious activities and correcting for them.

We asked Tamara how she became involved in the security of robotic systems:

“Teleoperated robots are an important class of cyber-physical systems, with huge potential in a variety of fields, including surgical applications, rehabilitation and elderly care. But in order to rely on them and use them with confidence, we need to know they are working properly. One aspect of that is understanding what happens if a malicious party tries to make them misbehave, and preventing that from happening.

In a nutshell, that is what my research is about. And it is a lot of fun – you get to be a white hat hacker while playing with cool robots.”

Tamara has published several papers over the last few years and has multiple patents pending. The patents include a brain-computer interface anonymizer and a method to enhance security and safety in telerobotic systems. For her upcoming paper on privacy and security in brain-computer interfaces she worked with UW Biorobotics Lab co-Director Howard Chizeck and Tech Policy Lab Co-Director Ryan Calo. In App Stores for the Brain: Privacy & Security in Brain-Computer Interfaces, they identify privacy and security issues arising from possible misuse or inappropriate use of brain-computer interfaces (BCI). In particular, they explore how current and emerging non-invasive BCI platforms can be used to extract private information, and suggest an interdisciplinary approach to mitigating this problem.

Below are a few of Tamara’s recent works.

The next generation of surgical telerobotics systems, including portable telerobotics systems, are envisioned to provide a medical relief in the areas of natural disasters and battlefield environments. In such systems, one or more distant surgeons control a surgical manipulator through a communication network that may combine wired and wireless components. Due to an open nature of the wireless medium, hostile operating environments and time-criticality of surgical procedures, such telerobotics systems are vulnerable to a variety of security threats. In Surgical Telerobotics Meets Information Security, Tamara and Howard Chizeck analyze some the threats and discuss their impact. (Proceedings of the 2012 Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS) Workshop on Algorithmic Frontiers in Medical Robotics in Uncertain, Deformable and Heterogeneous Environments).

Remotely operated robots can be used for rescue and recovery in natural disasters and man-made catastrophes, including battlefield environments. But, what if the robot is taken over and turned into a weapon? In On Potential Security Threats Against Rescue Robotic Systems (2012 IEEE Symposium on Security, Safety and Rescue Robotics), Tamara and Howard Chizeck consider the type of attacks that might occur and their implications on rescue and recovery missions. From this, they introduce a notion of telerobotic security and propose some ideas to ensure that rescue systems are “teleoperation secure” against one likely exploit.

In Securing the Exocortex: A Twenty-first Century Cybernetics Challenge (to be presented at the 2014 IEEE Conference on Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century, June 2014), the authors address the problem of private information exposure, for malicious purposes, when people use brain-computer interfaces to interact with the external environment. They show this problem of BCI malware is similar to the problem of information hiding in communications and analyze it in information and game-theoretic frameworks.