Researchers reveal cybersecurity concerns with 3D printing

Security fears are a common bedfellow of many technologies, whether it’s the Internet of Things or driverless cars.  A field that hasn’t, thus far, had the same level of fear attached to it is 3D printing, but a recently published paper highlights some of the cybersecurity issues surrounding the technology.

The researchers revealed cybersecurity issues in two core parts of 3D printing: the insertion of fine defects and the orientation of the printing.

“These are possible foci for attacks that could have a devastating impact on users of the end product, and economic impact in the form of recalls and lawsuits,” they say.

Securing 3D printing

The orientation of the printer is crucial to the strength of the eventual product, with estimates that an optimal orientation can increase strength by around 25%.

The way the printer should be orientated is not typically included in the CAD files sent to the printer however, hence it represents an opportunity for nefarious individuals to manipulate the process.  Whilst you may wonder quite why you would do this, the researchers highlight the clear financial incentives to do so.

“Minus a clear directive from the design team, the best orientation for the printer is one that minimizes the use of material and maximizes the number of parts you can print in one operation,” they say.

As 3D printing becomes an increasingly prevalent part of the supply chain, it’s crucial that companies are aware of the risks involved.  This is especially so as production environments become decentralized and often cloud-based.

For instance, a hacker might break into a cloud-based printer and ensure that defects are introduced to any component being printed.  It’s a risk that needs to be mitigated, especially for vital components in areas such as aviation.

This is especially important as these micro-defects are often at the sub-millimeter scale and so are incredibly difficult to detect using existing industrial monitoring techniques.

It isn’t clear just how large a risk this really poses, but with the growth in 3D printing set to accelerate, it’s a risk that the industry needs to address to ensure mishaps don’t occur.

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