The use of 3D printing is widespread, creating bold impacts in various fields and industries. Its popularity is due to a number of factors, including the availability of more materials used in producing 3D-printed objects, from plastic to steel to living tissue. Some researchers even started generating non-conventional products such as human organs. The continuous development of the 3D technology has evolved from a backwater of research laboratories to become part of the mainstream culture. However, for this development, precautionary measures are needed from threats on the cybersecurity risks of 3D printing.

It is easy to imagine the magnitude of damage that critical health products using defective parts will create when malicious programs compromise those parts.

3D printing cuts the time and cost of creating new objects. When creating a 3D-printed object, there is no need to go through the usual route of creating molds, assembling hundreds or thousands of components, and then constructing an object from several pieces. 3D printing can create multi-dimensional objects from a three-dimensional CAD drawing, with the object printed one thin layer at a time. It gives the printer more creativity and control over the final shape of the object to be created. This method of creating an object is faster, especially for prototypes or one-of-a-kind pieces – items are finished in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks.

Many people are optimistic that 3D printing will take over the mainstream manufacturing of goods, eliminating most of the manpower requirements of traditional factories. Experts have projected that in the near future, nearly everything will be produced through 3D printing. The expectation is that life will be easier and a lot more convenient when we get to the point that people could simply print things that they need. Everyone could imagine the world where you don’t have to run to plumbing supplies store to buy a replacement for your broken faucet valve. All you need to do is print one and install it.

Security analysts, however, do not share the same optimism about the future of 3D printing. They warned the public on the likelihood of 3D printing devices becoming compromised due to security breaches. People with ill intentions could take advantage of some vulnerability in the system and introduce malicious programs that will result in undetectable and dangerous defects in the products created. This will have a bold impact not only in the lives of 3D printer users, but for the general public as well.

Security breaches or cyberattacks directed at 3D printers could pose grave threats to the people’s health and security. When critical infrastructures around the world are using parts that are created by 3D printing, it is not farfetched to believe that criminals could paralyze transportation, aviation, communications, and most importantly, health care.

Risks and Threats from Online Exposure

It is easy to imagine the magnitude of damage that critical health products using defective parts will create when malicious programs compromise those parts. Parts for critical industries such as automotive and aerospace may be printed using additive methods that have no reliable means of verification.

Man printing a heart.

The security risks become higher when a company decides to outsource the 3D printing of the component parts for their products. Outsourcing to a third party is mainly governed by the desire to save money. Instead of investing heavily on expensive, top of the line 3D printers, it will be cheaper to outsource to companies that already have existing 3D printers. These offsite 3D printers are exposed even more to the risk of a security breach (through having multiple clients), resulting in defective parts that will be used in critical infrastructures.

Companies that have their 3D printing outsourced make the designs in-house, leaving the contract 3D printers with no way of verifying whether the designs have been tampered with or not. One safeguard that can be instituted here is the verification of the authenticity of the in-house digital files to be submitted to the contracted 3D printer. They should also verify the physical object produced through 3D printing to ensure that it was not subjected to a design flaw as a result of hacking.

The possibility of design hacking in 3D printing is as common today as the typical hacking of computers by cyber criminals. The bold impact of hacking makes it imperative to continue the battle against these negative cyber elements.

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