Sep 12, 2014 | By Alec
This week, a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce surfaced warning government defense contractors about the dangers that 3D printing can hold. And no, this isn't about threats to traditional forms of fabrication or the addictive nature of 3D printing, but about the dangers of hacked or exploding printers. While intended for defense contractors who use 3D printing to construct metal parts and use metal powders, these guidelines are definitely an interesting read for regular 3D printing enthusiasts as well.
This report was developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology – NIST, which is part of the Department of Commerce – to warn contractors of the various vulnerable and exploitable points in the way 3D printing is used by various companies, and is not something that has come out of nowhere.
The U.S. government has recently been looking into the possibilities and dangers this new branch of technology holds. This summer the FBI bought a $32,000 Stratasys Objet 24 3D Printer for the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center, to investigate 3D printings applicability for developing guns and explosives.
And earlier in the year, the Massachusetts-based 3D printing company Powderpart was fined by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration for an actual explosion. The company supposedly failed in containing various sources of potential ignition, such as titanium and aluminum alloys. An explosion that seriously injured an employee occurred in 2013.
Following that trend, this report now warns for a variety of other dangers – large and small – to raise awareness about security issues surrounding 3D printing. Obviously, you could wonder to what extent this consists of common sense and responsible behavior. But even if you're not trying to construct metal parts for weapons, anyone working with 3D printing in a professional setting could benefit from some added security.
According to the report, hackers can exploit unprotected 3D printers in a variety of ways. Some of the dangers listed are :
- Denial of service (DoS): to make printing services unavailable.
- Spam with submitted jobs to result in denial of service.
- Exploiting default administration/configuration passwords. So obviously use more than one password.
- Intercepting unencrypted data and information.
- Alteration/corruption of data and settings.
Through such actions, we are told, hackers can do just about anything with your 3D printing technology, from stealing or altering information designs, rendering your printers unusable, or corrupting your settings to make devices overheat or even explode. And of course, there is the theoretical possibility that 3D printing designs are altered with malicious intent as a method to sabotage constructions, weapons or defense systems.
PMC Group President Michael Chipley was quoted by Nextgov.com, who follow technological decision-making on a federal level, 'a weakened printed part that makes it into an assembly line, or even worse, out to a delivered system or product' could be very dangerous. Chipley, who is an expert on cyber security, therefore seems to follow the exact line of the NIST report in stating that unsecured 3D printers connected to the internet could be an easy target for spies or terrorists.
And while explosions might seem an unrealistic threat for your desktop 3D printers, these warnings make more sense for government contractors in aerospace and defense industries, where fine metal powders are often used, rather than melted plastic.
Chipley also explained how this affects the risk of explosions: 'The issue with powders is – because they are so fine – they could become volatile depending on chemical composition. You probably don't want to have a whole lot of free particulates in the air that can undergo spontaneous combustions at a production plant.' The Massachusetts explosion also followed the unchecked usage of combustible powders.
While it's an unsettling idea that 3D printing could be abused in such a way, it could nonetheless be beneficial to consider these warnings. The continued expansion of the 3D printing industry and wider adoption of this technology thus also seems to have a downside.
You can read the September 2014 draft of this report here.
Posted in 3D Printing Applications
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Jeff wrote at 9/18/2014 12:35:38 PM:
Paucus wrote at 9/17/2014 1:43:30 PM:
USA, the country that conquered most of a savage continent and fought and won innumerable wars... when did it become so afraid of everything?
anon wrote at 9/16/2014 8:49:51 PM:
I couldn’t agree more, Rufus. Government bull as usual. Defence contractors get exorbitant amounts of tax payer’s money to use to scare the people into perpetuating the bull. NIST has an annual budget of $750.1 million and did not reach the correct conclusion about World Trade Centre Building 7. Everyone knows that it was a controlled demolition. Come on. So the next ‘bogyman’ is the terrorist with the 3d printer. Give me a break. The people to be scared of are the ones producing this crap.
Rufus wrote at 9/15/2014 4:58:47 PM:
I lol'ed when I saw the headline. This is silly fear-mongering clickbait.
Rev. Dick Burns wrote at 9/12/2014 6:09:44 PM:
Hilarious. Terrorist OogaBooga comes to 3d printing. Be afraid be very afraid of the nebulous scaremongering threat. By the way, STUXNET was designed to force failure on various engineered machines. That was a STATE CREATED THREAT. Which state should we fear regarding 3d printing? USA? Seems plausible. It is a government which can not survive without scaring the general population almost daily.