Design Engineering

3 ways to defend against cyber attacks on 3D Printers


Additive Manufacturing 3D printers

Engineers have devised three ways to combat cyber attacks on 3D printers: monitoring printer motion and sounds and using tiny gold nanoparticles.

With the rise of IIoT and digital factories, 3D printers are subject to cyber attacks. Researchers at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Georgia Institute of Technology have developed 3 new methods to combat these attacks, according to a new study.

3d printing cyber attacks

Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Georgia Tech engineers have devised three ways to combat cyber attacks on 3D printers: monitoring printer motion and sounds and using tiny gold nanoparticles. (Photo: Christian Bayens/Georgia Institute of Technology)

According to co-author, Saman Aliari Zonouz, 3D printers will be attractive targets because objects and parts produced are often used in critical infrastructures around the world. Those looking to wreak havoc could use cyber attacks to cause failures in health care, transportation, robotics, aviation and space.

Saman Aliari Zonouz, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, co-authored a peer-reviewed study, “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Feel No Evil, Print No Evil? Malicious Fill Pattern Detection in Additive Manufacturing.”

The Rutgers and Georgia Tech researchers are using cancer imaging techniques to detect intrusions and hacking of 3D printer controllers.


“Imagine outsourcing the manufacturing of an object to a 3D printing facility and you have no access to their printers and no way of verifying whether small defects, invisible to the naked eye, have been inserted into your object,” said Mehdi Javanmard, study co-author and assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

Mehdi adds that the results could be devastating and one of the challenges is that there may be no way to trace where the problem came from.

Products such as medical prostheses and aerospace and auto parts are being 3D printed with no standard way to verify them for accuracy, the study says.

3D printers range in price but can be a hefty investment for some companies, who choose to send software-designed products to outside facilities for printing, adds Zonouz. But the firmware in printers may be hacked.

For their study, the researchers bought several 3D printers and showed that it’s possible to hack into a computer’s firmware and print defective objects. The defects were undetectable on the outside but the objects had holes or fractures inside them.

The researchers looked into the physical aspect of 3D printing rather than securing the software because although anti-hacking software is essential is does not provide 100 percent security against cyber attacks.

In 3D printing, the software controls the printer, which fulfills the virtual design of an object. The physical part includes an extruder or “arm” through which filament (plastic, metal wire or other material) is pushed to form an object.

The researchers observed the motion of the extruder, using sensors, and monitored sounds made by the printer via microphones. Through these two methods, the team was able to identify if the print process is following the design or a malicious defect is being introduced.

They also developed a third method by injecting tiny gold nanoparticles, acting as contrast agents, into the filament and sending with the 3D print design to the printing facility. After printing, high-tech scanning reveals whether the nanoparticles have shifted in the object or have holes or other defects.

Javanmard explains that this method is somewhat similar to using contrast agents or dyes for more accurate imaging of tumors using MRIs or CT scans.

The next steps in their research include investigating other possible ways to attack 3D printers, proposing defences and transferring methods to industry, Zonouz said.

“You’ll see more types of attacks as well as proposed defenses in the 3D printing industry within about five years,” he said.

Study coauthors include Christian Bayens and Raheem Beyah of the Georgia Tech, and Tuan Le and Luis Garcia of Rutgers.



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