Jul 21, 2016 | By Alec

It seems like even criminals have mastered 3D printing. According to British multinational security services company G4S, 3D printed counterfeit security devices such as cargo seals are increasingly found in harbors, where they are used to disguise cargo theft by replacing a broken seal with a 3D printed replica. This problem has now gotten so out of hand, that the G4S has shared several tips with shipping companies on how to prepare against this criminal epidemic.

Of course, this isn’t the first time 3D printing has appeared in a criminal light. The debate over 3D printed guns remains controversial, while several Australian biker gangs have been caught using the technology to produce illicit weapons. Even the most reputable security firms on the planet are struggling with 3D printing; back in September 2015 it was even revealed that  3D printed TSA Master Luggage Keys had been created using leaked photos of an original key.

But even harbor criminals, who specialize in stealing valuable cargo from shipping containers, have found 3D printing technology useful. As G4S revealed a few months ago, criminal gangs are becoming a bigger and bigger threat to international shipping by using 3D printed security devices. Specifically, they are creating perfect replicas of seals and padlocks to obscure the signs of theft. By creating perfect replicas of certain well-known cable seals such as the ISO 17712, these thieves are giving security personnel no reason to identify break-ins. Once the theft is eventually discovered upon arrival, there is little evidence to suggest when and where it took place, while the cargo has long been sold.

These achievements are, in some ways, impressive as those conventional seals are quite costly to make and very detailed – a perfect solution for years. But with the cost of 3D printing decreasing dramatically, even a regular desktop 3D printer can produce counterfeits in a matter of minutes. “For just a few hundred dollars you can purchase a 3D scanner that eliminates the need to understand computer-aided design (CAD),” said Robert Dodge, Senior Vice President of G4S Corporate Risk Services. “It will not only provide the dimensions for any item but also creates the CAD technical specifications needed to produce a near-perfect replica.”

Security services therefore have to – as they have done for centuries – evolve alongside the criminals. “We want to ensure that people are alert to this emerging threat and watching for it," said Dodge. “Some supply chain security program clients are further sharing the information with their business partners who might use high-security seals.US Customs and Border Protection has welcomed the fact we are sharing details of this threat with the business community and appreciated this information.”

While far more detailed services and tips were provided to G4S clients, the security specialist did share several tips with the world as well. In particular, they are advising shipping companies to be more thorough in their partner and employee assessments. That means hiring a third party security expert to assess any shipping deals that are made, while they are advised to force all shipping employees to undergo background checks – to find out if any of them have ties with criminals.

But more importantly, the criminals must be outsmarted. In part, this can be achieved by removing any type of predictability – don’t let the criminals know where your containers are and when they arrive. This can be achieved by thoroughly assessing shipping routes and harbors, in order to identify alternative routes and delivery times and to set up irregular schedules.

Furthermore, the containers themselves need to be more closely protected. Not placing any company logos on company-owned cargo containers, they say, is a good start. Randomly placing GPS devices in containers will also enable them to register criminal activity as quickly as possible, and will serve as a deterrent – as will the installation of motion-activated, internet-based cameras inside random containers. But most importantly, seals and their colors need to be periodically changed to make it much harder to produce accurate and relevant 3D printed replicas. Each technological breakthrough, it seems, thus also has its drawbacks.


  • Conduct a professional, third-party security assessment of any company used for shipment of goods
  • Conduct thorough background checks on shipping company employees
  • Analyse shipping methods to identify alternative routes and delivery times, to avoid predictability
  • Avoid placing company logos on company-owned cargo containers
  • Place GPS devices in random shipments
  • Install motion-activated, internet-based cameras inside random containers to capture footage of door being opened
  • Alternate colour of seals and periodically change them to make it harder to produce replicas



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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