Nov 10, 2017 | By Tess

The Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C. think-tank has released a new report which outlines the benefits and risks of 3D printing within the aviation sector. The report is entitled “Aviation Security: Finding Lift, Minimizing Drag.”

Within the aerospace and aviations industries, additive manufacturing is becoming increasingly popular, with most, if not all, major aircraft manufacturers exploring and investing in the technology. From Boeing to Airbus, it seems that 3D printing has occupied an important place in the aviation sector.

Of course, adopting a new manufacturing process, especially a digital one, comes with its fair share of challenges and risks, which is what the Atlantic Council seeks to elucidate in its new report.

But first, let’s take a look at some of the benefits that the report attributes to 3D printing technologies. Perhaps most obviously, is the fact that 3D printing enables manufacturers to reduce their material consumption and overall waste. That is, by creating parts using an additive process rather than a tradition subtractive process, less material is needed for a given part’s production.

Other advantages of the technology includes its ability to create complex internal structures, which in turn allows for more lightweight parts, as well as creating small-batch or bespoke parts in a cost-effective manner.

That being said, the report states that just in being a digital-based technology, “there is immediate potential for concern” with 3D printing, especially in terms of cybersecurity risks.

According to the report, additive manufacturing opens up the possibility for three main kinds of cyberattacks: deny, which consists of the disruption of deletion of firmware, software, and product designs; compromise, which is the theft of intellectual property and product design files; and sabotage, which refers to “undetected modification” of printing files with the intention of weakening parts and corrupting their functions.

Of the three risks, “deny” is the most obvious, as files and programs would simply be missing, while “compromise” could give adversaries access to protected design files and information. “Sabotage,” in being difficult to detect, could potentially be the most serious type of attack.

As the report says, “The risk of ‘sabotage’ may be an order of magnitude more difficult for the adversary to achieve, but the outcomes could have a greater impact.”

Atlantic Council backs up this statement with a number of research projects which have investigated the matter. The first, it says, demonstrated that it was “possible to compromise either the 3D printer or the design in such a way that the product was weakened in a manner undetectable with standard quality control methodologies.”

Obviously, using a compromised part in an aircraft’s structure could have extremely dire consequences. As another research project demonstrated, a weakened propeller design which was 3D printed and tested for use “failed catastrophically” after only two minutes in action.

As 3D printing becomes more commonplace within the aviation industry, it seems apparent that a number of new and unprecedented types of manufacturing risks will present themselves, which companies will have to investigate and prepare themselves for.

Even the security measures taken to prevent such cyberattacks will have to be monitored and continually updated, as cybersecurity risks will continue to change and advance, like a virus.

As the report states: “Cyber adversaries and their capabilities evolve and adapt quickly. This may be particularly challenging for an industry where many of the systems have long design and development periods. As technology radically transforms design, production, operation, and maintenance of aircraft, models of safety and security must adapt.”

All in all, while additive manufacturing and other digital manufacturing processes are gaining sway in the aviation industry because of their many streamlining benefits, it will be imperative that companies do not overlook the risks that these technologies can present and protect their products from any potential compromise at a cyber-level.

The Atlantic Council report “Aviation Security: Finding Lift, Minimizing Drag,” was authored by Pete Cooper, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative in the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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