3D-printed designs could be stolen from noisy blabbermouth printers

If you’re 3D-printing from a top-secret blueprint, it’s no longer enough to just use an encrypted printer and buy a really strong padlock for the room where your doodles are kept. Thieves can get hold of your design by listening to the printer’s movements, a new study from the University of California has proved.

3D-printed designs could be stolen from noisy blabbermouth printers

Place a recording device next to a 3D-printer at work, and you can reverse-engineer the designs by matching the whirring and buzzing to the movements of the nozzles.

My group basically stumbled upon this finding last summer as we were doing work to try to understand the relationship between information and energy flows,” explained Mohammad Al Faruque, the director of UCI’s Advanced Integrated Cyber-Physical Systems Lab.

“According to the fundamental laws of physics, energy is not consumed; it’s converted from one form to another – electromagnetic to kinetic, for example,” he continued. “Some forms of energy are translated in meaningful and useful ways; others become emissions, which may unintentionally disclose secret information. Initially, we weren’t interested in the security angle, but we realized we were onto something, and we’re seeing interest from other departments at UCI and from various U.S. government agencies.”bad-vibrations-uci-researchers-find-security-breach-in-3-d-printing-process

With smartphones becoming ever present, the chances of someone pirating a design by recording the sounds of a printer at work are reasonably high for those with the know-how, and Al Faruque and his team were able to achieve nearly 90% accuracy in their copies created using sound alone, with no access to the original G-code.

“In many manufacturing plants, people who work on a shift basis don’t get monitored for their smartphones, for example,” Al Faruque explained. “There’s no way to protect these systems from such an attack today, but possibly there will be in the future.”

In the future, engineers might consider jamming the acoustic signals with white-noise, Al Faruque says, but for now, ensuring tighter security to prevent recording devices from approaching prototypes is the best solution we have.

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Images: Luke Jones and UCI

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