Hacked 3D printers could commit industrial sabotage

Hackers could introduce defects into printed products, researchers are warning

3D printers can churn out toys, clothing and even food. But the technology also shows potential for use in industrial sabotage, researchers warn.

Imagine a car maker using 3D printers to manufacture components, only to have the parts contain defects that are undetectable until it’s too late.

A hacker with access to the 3D printers could make that happen, a team of researchers wrote in a recent paper. This could result in a "devastating impact" for users and lead to product recalls and lawsuits, said New York University professor Nikhil Gupta, the lead author of the paper.

3D printing is also known as “additive manufacturing.” It involves printing out layer after layer of material to create an object, like a plastic figurine or even a house.

The technology could streamline manufacturing, and the car industry is already experimenting with it. In the past, companies used 3D printers mainly to create prototypes, but recent advancements will expand the use of the technology to make actual products, research firm Gartner predicts.

If that happens, companies should be on guard for possible misuse. Many 3D printers are connected to the Internet, allowing for remote control, the researchers said. Hackers might be able to target these printers and secretly introduce internal defects in the manufacturing process.

For example, products might be made to handle less strain, leading them to break apart over time. The defects could be so small that not even ultrasonic imaging would detect them.

This could be life-threatening if defective components were printed out for cars or airplanes. The aircraft industry has been using 3D printers to create replacement parts, noted Steven Zeltmann, one of the paper’s authors. He is a graduate student at New York University.

The potential for sabotage could also grow if manufacturers chose to outsource their commercial 3D printing to less trustworthy third parties, Zeltmann said via email.

And the security risks of Internet-connected printers go beyond the manufacturing itself. Given that 3D printers rely on design files, a breach could compromise a company's intellectual property.

To prevent the security risks, Zeltmann recommended that manufacturers disconnect their 3D printers from the Internet and encrypt their design files.

Companies could obfuscate their design files and use encryption so that only the designated 3D printer would know how to read them. “A printer without the right knowledge of what to ignore/follow would print a totally different part or just a big mess,” Zeltmann said.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?