Oct 20, 2016 | By Nick

It’s official, it is possible to hack in to a 3D printing system and change the design to cause a failure somewhere down the line.

Researchers from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), the Singapore University of Technology and Design and the University of South Alabama joined forces to sabotage the production of replacement propellers for a drone by inserting miniscule defects and cavities that simply could not be picked up with a visual inspection.

The drone with three normal propellers and one damaged

This was enough to down the done mid-flight when the propeller broke apart thanks to a defect near the hub and a $1000 drone hit the floor. They have detailed their findings in a new paper, entitled: Dr0wned.

Attack flow

Nobody will shed too many tears over a drone falling from the sky. But the inference is clear. If the researchers can break in and affect a drone’s wing then they could just as easily affect an aeroplane manufacturer’s printing process, or a critical part on a car, helicopter or satellite.

"Imagine that an adversary can sabotage functional parts employed in an airplane's jet engines. Such an attack could cost lives, cause economic loss, disrupt industry, and threaten a country's national security," said Prof. Yuval Elovici, director of the BGU Cyber Security Research Center (CSRC).

"With the growth of additive manufacturing worldwide, we believe the ability to conduct malicious sabotage of these systems will attract the attention of many adversaries, ranging from criminal gangs to state actors, who will aim either for profit or for geopolitical power.”

Two 3D printed caps site-by-site. Cap A is sabotaged and Cap B is benign

Two 3D printed propellers site-by-site. The Upper is benign and the lower is sabotaged

Recently, another researcher proved it was possible to steal a design from a 3D printer with a simple smartphone and a number of other research teams have shown how relatively easy it is to carry out an attack. This research, though, took it to the next level and did not just show one point of weakness and the theoretical possibility of an attack, it actually ran through the program as if it were a malicious attack from start to finish.

"'Dr0wned' is not the first article that raises this issue. However, all prior research has focused on a single aspect of a possible attack, assuming that all other attack elements are feasible. This is the first experimental proof of a complete attack chain initiated by sabotaging the 3D-printed propeller."

Additive manufacturing has been a mainstay in the aerospace industry for many years as a rapid protoyping tool. But recently it has become a viable option for production ready parts and now Wohlers Report claims that 32.5% of all 3D printed objects are used as functional parts rather than design studies. It also claims that the Additive Manufacturing industry produced $5.165 billion of revenue in 2015.

That’s good news for the industry as a whole as the production costs come down, development speeds up and there are a whole host of other benefits. But this fourth industrial revolution is going to present its own problems. Security is arguably the biggest concern.

The very nature of the production line means that once it’s in place, the machines simply carry out the same action hundreds, thousands or millions of times. It’s essentially harder to disrupt the process. With 3D printing, each and every print is a self-contained and a fresh operation and that means that it’s technically easier to hack into the system.

The industry as a whole is going to have find new ways to secure additive manufacturing systems or run the very real risk of cyber attacks like the one outlined in Dr0wned. This could come from rival manufacturers seeking to gain a competitive advantage and companies that are putting plans for each and every product in the hands of their computers and 3D printers could also find that cybercriminals try to break in and steal their intellectual property.

This is arguably the biggest concern as major companies switch to additive manufacturing for their production processes. Criminals no longer need to steal the physical products, they can simply take the plans and manufacture their own at their leisure at a print shop on the opposite side of the world.

Propeller design with introduced defects

So while it is possible that organized criminals could hack into a system and place defects in a plane’s structure, it would be much harder to profit from this. Terrorists, on the other hand, could sabotage a plane from a distance, without having to go on board, and this type of attack could cause widespread disruption and fear.

So there are lots of valid reasons why people would want to hack in to a 3D printing production line and we, as an industry, have to do our level best to make sure the system is secure.

There are so many vulnerabilities that we simply need to address, from gateways in the open source software to direct attacks on the networks that contain the 3D printer and the computer that controls it. We’re set for a new wave of cybercriminals and a new dawn in cyber security as 3D printing crosses over into the mainstream.

This study, and many others like it, show that we really need to address this issue right now, because we’re nowhere near ready.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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