Mar 2, 2016 | By Kira

A new study from the University of California, Irvine, has revealed the surprising fact that the sounds emitted from a 3D printer could be enough to compromise valuable intellectual property, allowing cyber attackers to reverse-engineer and re-create 3D printed objects based off of nothing more than a smartphone audio recording.

3D printer in action, image by Maurice Mikkers via Flickr

When it comes to the legal aspects of 3D printing, the majority of makers are concerned with their intellectual property being illegally appropriated and copied via online platforms—take the recent case between Thingiverse designers and shady eBay reseller just3Dprint, for example.

According to UCI’s findings, however, designers and manufacturers wouldn’t even need to upload their STL files or 3D prints to the World Wide Web to be the victims of IP theft. Provided the attacker has access to the 3D printer in question, say, in the case of a worker at a 3D printing manufacturing plant or a workplace rival, all they would have to do is set up a recording device, and the designs are as good as theirs.

UCI visitors watch a 3D printer in action, image via UCI news

The research was led by Mohammad Al Faruque, electrical engineer, computer scientist, and director of UCI’s Advanced Integrated Cyber-Physical Systems Lab. He and his team demonstrated that the acoustic signals emitted by a 3D printer carry unique information about the precise movements of the nozzle, and that this information can be reverse-engineered to reveal the object’s original source code.

The acoustic information is in fact so precise, that Al Faruque and his team were able to recreate a key-shaped object with nearly 90 percent accuracy using only the 3D printer’s audio recordings. If used maliciously, the technique could represent a significant security threat.

According to Al Faruque, the scientific explanation for this 3D printer sound-copying process is based on the relationship between information and energy flows: “According to the fundamental laws of physics, energy is not consumed, it’s converted from one form to another—electromagnetic to kinetic, for example. Some forms of energy are translated in meaningful and useful ways; others become emissions, which may unintentionally disclose secret information.”

In this case, the ‘emissions’ are the sounds a 3D printer makes as it extrudes plastic into pre-programmed layers. Indeed, makers have often complained that the loud, robotic noise emitted by 3D printers can be extremely annoying, leading some companies to try and develop quieter 3D printing hardware. But, they probably never thought those sounds could actually be used against them.

An example of the sounds emitted by a 3D printer in use

There's no reason to become paranoid just yet, as it is unlikely that individual makers would be the victims of such a 3D printing cyber attack. However, this kind of security breach could pose a bigger threat to companies developing novel 3D printed devices or 3D printing sensitive prototypes: “In many manufacturing plants, people who work on a shift basis don’t get monitored for their smartphones, for example,” Al Faruque told UCI News. “If process and product information is stolen during the prototyping phases, companies stand to incur large financial losses.”

To protect themselves from potential "industrial espionage", he therefore suggests a few methods for deterring 3D pritner audio recordings. For example, manufacturers could jam the acoustic signals by using white noise machines. At the very least, cautious manufacturers could restrict people from carrying smartphones or recording devices when susceptible objects are being 3D printed, however that could be a difficult rule to enforce.

Since uncovering their findings, the UCI team has received interest from other departments at UCI, and even from various U.S. government agencies. The research will be officially presented at ICCPS 2016 (International Conference on Cyber-Physical Systems) taking place this April in Vienna.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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Richard wrote at 3/11/2016 5:36:00 AM:

This opens a new world. Think about macro semiconductors. With conductive and semiconductive filaments a new class of devices can be custom manufactured.

Iva wrote at 3/5/2016 4:36:49 AM:

The world will just move forward if intellectual property collapses anyways. Bye bye big business. You're role is almost fulfilled, and you're rule is almost over. There is no going back now.

Avi wrote at 3/3/2016 7:21:32 PM:

High value products are produced using lasers. Not sub par desktop FDM machines. The world will not change

nzyrzglotz wrote at 3/3/2016 12:01:30 PM:

kinduh sounds like a van halen song..

Ey Cee Yoo wrote at 3/2/2016 11:36:38 PM:

Delta printers rule

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