3D printers next vector for sabotage, report

Hackers might be able to alter CAD files sent by the designer.
Hackers might be able to alter CAD files sent by the designer.

Software vulnerabilities in the 3D printing process that could open the door for sabotage were revealed by a team of researchers.

Additive manufacturing (AM), better known as 3D printing, is already a $4 billion industry with forecasts projecting that figure to quadruple by 2020. Everything from toys, clothing, car parts to medical components are being fabricated by these devices that exude layers of material to create a physical object. 

But, vulnerabilities in the machinery's software were revealed In a paper published on Tuesday by cybersecurity and materials engineers at New York University. Recommendations to block possible intrusions were offered as well.

Since many 3D printers are tethered to the internet, hackers might be able to alter the computer assisted design (CAD) file sent by the designer. They could make as much as a 25 percent difference in the strength of the physical product being forged by the device, the paper said. The consequence could have a "devastating impact" for users resulting in product recalls and lawsuits, said Nikhil Gupta, a professor at NYU and the lead author of the paper. 

The researchers offered recommendations that could stop this from happening: Manufacturers should cut the ties to the internet and encrypt their design files, they said.

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