Researchers discover major security breach in 3D printing technology

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Researchers from the University of California, Irvine have discovered what may amount to a major security breach in the 3D printing process: the source code of any 3D printer can be easily recorded and reverse engineered, allowing hackers to reverse-engineer 3D-printed objects and potentially engage in corporate espionage.

The team behind the research, led by Professor Mohammad Al Faruque of UCI's Advanced Integrated Cyber-Physical Systems Lab, said they managed to successfully reverse-engineer the G-code of a 3D printer using only audio of the printer nozzle recorded on a smartphone. Recording the sound of the printer allowed Al Faruque and his team to analyze and interpret the acoustic signals of the 3D printer in a meaningful way.

“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. According to the fundamental laws of physics, energy is not consumed; it’s converted from one form to another – electromagnetic to kinetic, for example. Some forms of energy are translated in meaningful and useful ways; others become emissions, which may unintentionally disclose secret information.”

The team at UCI managed to duplicate a 3D printed key with up to 90 percent accuracy using their sound recording method. A 10 percent margin of error could still render total failure in complex 3D-printed objects, but Al Faruque - who plans to present his team's research at the International Conference on Cyber-Physical Systems in Vienna in April - says the potential for corporate or national espionage using reverse-engineering could be very high.

“President Obama has spoken about returning manufacturing to the United States, and I think 3-D printing will play a major role because of the creation of highly intellectual objects, in many cases in our homes,” Al Faruque said, and suggested engineers consider "jamming" the acoustic signals made by the 3D printer with a white noise device or similar tool.

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