3D printing industry may face cybersecurity risk

The 3D printing industry, currently a USD 4 billion business set to quadruple by 2020, may be facing cybersecurity risks that could have devastating impact on users of the end product, scientists including those of Indian origin have found.

In future, manufacturers may print everything from cars to medicines, disrupting centuries-old production practices.

However, the new technology faces same dangers unearthed in the electronics industry.

Researchers examined two aspects of 3D printing that have cyber security implications – printing orientation and insertion of fine defects.

“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,” said Nikhil Gupta, from the New York University.

Three-dimensional printing builds a product from a computer assisted design (CAD) file sent by the designer.

The manufacturing software deconstructs the design into slices and orients the printer head. The printer then applies material in ultra-thin layers.

The researchers reported that the orientation of the product during printing could make as much as a 25 per cent difference in its strength.

However, since CAD files do not give instructions for printer head orientation, malefactors could deliberately alter the process without detection.

Gupta said that economic concerns also influence how a supplier prints a product.

“Minus a clear directive from the design team, the best orientation for the printer is one that minimises the use of material and maximises the number of parts you can print in one operation,” he said.

“With the growth of cloud-based and decentralised production environments, it is critical that all entities within the additive manufacturing supply chain be aware of the unique challenges presented to avoid significant risk to the reliability of the product,” said Ramesh Karri, of NYU.

He pointed out that an attacker could hack into a printer that is connected to Internet to introduce internal defects as the component is being printed.

When the researchers introduced sub-millimetre defects between printed layers, they found that the defects were undetectable by common industrial monitoring techniques.

Over time, materials can weaken with exposure to fatigue conditions, heat, light, and humidity and become more susceptible to these small defects.

“With 3D printed components, such as metallic molds made for injection molding used in high temperature and pressure conditions, such defects may eventually cause failure,” Gupta said.

The study was published in The Journal of the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society. — PTI