Tech Report

By: Megan Nichols

You’ve certainly heard about 3D printing a lot lately. It seems to be the next big thing in technology. However, with technological advancements, there comes new cybersecurity risks — and 3D printing hasn’t escaped those.

What Is 3D Printing?

3d3D printing takes a digital file and transforms it into a solid object. To start out, you have to design what you want to print on computer aided design (CAD) or animation modeling software. The program divides your design into cross-sections so the printer is able to complete it in layers. When you have a design you’re happy with, you send it to the printer.

The 3D printer creates your design layer by layer in the material you choose. Materials also vary depending on the printer. The printer makes passes over the platform, transferring material from the printer onto the platform. Depending on how big you want your object, it can take hours or even days to complete.

One of the ways 3D printing has changed the game is with prototypes. While injection molding used to be the standard, 3D printing has given it a run for its money.

Each option — 3D printing and injection molding — has their strengths, but it can be beneficial to use both. To utilize the advantages of each method, there is a technique that can combine the two — leading to the speed and savings of 3D printing with the accuracy of injection molding.


What Could Go Wrong?

As more people start using this technology, the more security they’re going to need to monitor 3D printers. A team of researchers at NYU discovered that building something from a CAD file could then lead to issues with the product’s design. The printers could be hacked if they’re connected to the Internet while things are being printed. The most vulnerable issues are the printer’s orientation and the ability of hackers to insert fine defects into the body of an object being printed.

The CAD files don’t specifically give instructions for orientation of the printer head. It’s possible, therefore, they could be changed without any detection. The defects would be inserted in between the printed layers of a product, and they wouldn’t be detected by the standard industry techniques that are currently used. Both of these could lead to some serious weaknesses in the printed objects — and they could be devastating.

For instance, the aircraft industry has been using 3D printing for replacement parts, and a weakness in one of them could put everyone in the plane at risk. Auto manufacturers have been looking into the technology as well.


What Can Be Done to Keep 3D Printing Safe?

This problem showcases a need for new cybersecurity tools within the 3D printing industry. It also means that the methods of testing for defects and potential weaknesses in 3D printed products will need to be changed so they’re able to detect these kinds of issues. 3D printers could also use some sort of warning system when it appears an attack is happening.

If you’re a manufacturer, avoid outsourcing your commercial printing to third parties if possible. They’re less trustworthy and could lead to potential sabotage of the product — as well as lawsuits and recalls.

Internet-connected 3D printers go beyond this. Whenever you’re printing something, disconnect your printer from the Internet so hackers can’t get to what you’re making. In addition, encrypt your design files so they can’t be tampered with. It could be possible for companies to encrypt their designs so only their designated 3D printer would be able to read them. Another printer attempting to use the design wouldn’t be able to produce anything similar to the product.

Technology is a wonderful thing, but the dangers of cybersecurity can’t be ignored. Make sure your 3D printed products are safe from the prying minds of hackers and take all of the precautions possible. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

About the Author:

megannicholsMegan Nichols is the editor of Schooled by Science. She enjoys writing about the latest innovations in technology and science.


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