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How to Protect Your 3D Printer from Being Hacked

February 5, 2019 at 9:25 AM / by TJ Russell - Director of 3D Printing

Manufacturers are increasingly relying on 3D printing to create new products, complex components, and more. The limitless capabilities additive manufacturing offers make it a critical value differentiator in today’s industrial landscape.

But with new technology comes new risks. For 3D printing, manufacturers must dedicate resources and talent to protect intellectual property and, in some cases, protect themselves and their users from sabotage.

An Overview of 3D Printer Security Vulnerabilities

3D printers operate on corporate networks much in the same way regular imaging devices like copiers do. They accept incoming connections, hold incoming CAD files on a local hard drive, and output the desired result. This presents a broad range of vulnerabilities that ambitious cybercriminals can take advantage of.

For instance, any device that automatically accepts incoming connections is a cybersecurity threat. Any hacker that gets past the network’s initial defenses will be able to access the device and gain control of it.

In a typical small-scale industrial business environment, the network’s defenses often consist of little more than a commercial-grade firewall. Sophisticated cybercriminals can get past these defenses using multi-stage infiltration techniques, where harmless individual bits of code slip past the firewall and then assemble themselves inside the network.

Devices that hold unencrypted design files are a serious threat to intellectual property and user safety. A cybercriminal with access to an organization’s 3D printer could insert an undetectable design change into a product and let the product go to market with a key malfunction that only the hacker knows about.

In high-risk applications such as automobile components, industrial sabotage of this nature could be disastrous and dangerous. Even if users are not put in danger, the subsequent product recall and class-action lawsuit are enough to put any small industrial firm out of business.

Additionally, competitive industrial firms could hire cybercriminals to pilfer CAD design files. This kind of corporate espionage is not uncommon in the world of traditional manufacturing, and 3D printing is not immune to it either.

Even the 3D printer’s output orientation is susceptible to cyberattack. In this attack scenario, a cybercriminal changes the output orientation of the final product in a way that technicians are not likely to notice. The result is a product with a weaker composition than expected, leading to product malfunctions, recalls, and lawsuits.

How You Can Protect Your 3D Printer Starting Today

Industrial firms that rely on 3D printing for its cost-saving benefits and higher-quality results can protect themselves and their intellectual property by following a few key steps. Implement a print policy that covers the main attack vectors cybercriminals use to compromise your devices and protect your 3D printer Ensure your policy includes the following steps:

1. Secure Your Network

3D printers operating on unsecured networks are cybercrime targets. Manufacturers need to keep their devices connected to a secure network so that they can reliably send CAD files to their print equipment, but they have to secure the network to protect the devices from intrusion.

Secure networks feature next-generation firewall technology that identifies potential threats automatically. But best-in-class cybersecurity doesn’t stop at the firewall. Multi-layered security is essential to mitigating the risk of cybercrime while keeping efficiency and productivity on point.

2. Encrypt Your CAD Files

Encryption is one of the most important tools in your multi-layered industrial cybersecurity framework. Encryption ensures that even if hackers gain access to files, they will not be able to interpret, analyze, or edit them. This protects manufacturers from intentional sabotage while protecting intellectual property at the same time.

There are many kinds of encryption tools available to 3D printing manufacturers, including a variety of encryption tools specifically designed for additive manufacturing. These encryption tools have been streamlined for 3D printer use, making them an easy addition to any industrial network.

3. Consider State-of-the-art Inspection Techniques

Additive manufacturing researchers are constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to protect 3D printers from theft and sabotage. One of the most promising techniques for identifying defects uses microscopic gold nanoparticles to find out whether the printed item conforms to the CAD file. This method could alert users to a security breach or sabotage attempt.

This method and others like it form the basis for a new field of quality assurance for additive manufacturing processes. Verifying the authenticity of printed items will become increasingly important as 3D printer security becomes a mainstream issue.

Rely on Reputable 3D Printing Experts to Secure Your Devices

Manufacturers need to commit considerable talent and resources to streamline the 3D printing process in order to reliably generate value for end-users. Third-party security vendors with expertise protecting 3D printers from cyberattack offer significant value compared to the cost of attempting to implement an in-house security solution.

State-of-the-art network infrastructure is key to protecting network-enabled devices like 3D printers. Image Net Consulting can help you deploy managed network services with best-in-class cybersecurity.

Topics: 3D Printing , Additive Manufacturing

Written by TJ Russell - Director of 3D Printing

TJ Russell is the Director of 3D Printing at ImageNet Consulting. He began his career at ImageNet working in Marketing and transitioned over to leasing to gain a better understanding of the business. After spending 2 years researching 3D printing and strategizing how ImageNet could move into the 3D print space, the company decided to open the 3D printing department. Once the opportunity opened, the company felt TJ's background in design, high interest in the technology, his research in 3D, and motivation to build a successful program would fit well in jump-starting the 3D Printing division. TJ has now successfully built the 3D team from the ground up, hiring and training our 3D consultants, while simultaneously securing partner contacts with top 3D companies, such as HP, Ultimaker, and Markforged!

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