Evolution of 3D Printing Technology Raises Security Concerns

Pierluigi Paganini June 20, 2015

This post is an excerpt from the article titled “Evolution of 3D Printing Technology Raises Security Concerns” available on the Infosec Institute.

Also known as the term additive manufacturing (AM), 3D printing is a process for making a three-dimensional object of almost any shape starting from a 3D model or other electronic data source.

Through additive processes, a 3D printer adds successive layers of material to compose the final shape under the control of a computer. This means that these industrial robots could be used to create customized objects on demand.

These technological jewels could be used practically in any industry. It is necessary to have only a digital representation of the object that must be realized to build it.

The reduction of the cost of 3D printers is extending their diffusion also within home users and hobbyists that could design and make new devices with a limited budget in a short time.

The first 3D printers appeared in the 1980s. Over time, the technology rapidly evolved and several models of 3D printers appeared on the market. Today a sophisticated extrusion-based printer is sold for $2,500-$3,000, but new models are appearing on the market having a cost of few hundreds of dollars. The new generation of 3D printers is very attractive for the industry due to its cost, considering that laser stereo lithography devices ordinarily used in most industrial systems are about 10-100 times more expensive.

3D printers represent the ideal choice for low to medium volume applications and eliminate the need for production tools.

Other benefits of the adoption of 3D printing processes are the energy saving technology and the optimal management of the material used for the production, which allows utilizing up to 90% of standard materials, with a significant reduction of waste.

“Furthermore, 3D printing is showing great promise in terms of fulfilling a local manufacturing model, whereby products are built on demand in the place where they are needed — eliminating huge inventories and unsustainable logistics for shipping high volumes of products around the world.”

The use of 3D printers allows a significant reduction of time and costs for the realization of prototypes in industrial productions, and the availability of prototypes in a short time has the advantage of identification of design errors in the early stages of any manufacturing process.

Robert Schouwenburg, co-founder of Shapeways, an online firm that uses 3D technology to manufacture custom-made objects using several materials, declared that his company is now selling 50,000 products every month online, and the number of objects produced is in constant increase.

3D Printers, cheap and dangerous

3D printers, as expected, have attracted the interest of organized crime. Such devices may allow criminal gangs to print a weapon or any other object that can be used for illegal activities.

Public opinion was not considering 3D print as a threat until media agencies divulged the news that a man succeeded in the building of a plastic gun from a 3-D printer and firing at least one shot with it.

Cody Wilson is the name of the man that demonstrated the world’s first fully 3D printed gun last year. He explained that anyone can create a lethal firearm just using a blueprint file of the weapon and a 3D printer.

3d printing weapons

The news alarmed authorities because such a weapon could avoid detection of metal detectors, and plastic guns could be designed by splitting the overall weapon in small components not easy to recognize by a visual inspection or an X-Ray.

The availability of this technology at reasonable prices was a turning point in the criminal ecosystem. A 3D printer can be bought for nearly $1,500. As a consequence, we assisted in the rapid proliferating of these devices.

Criminals could print a weapon like a gun or an AR-15 assault weapon at their home, choosing the most appropriate material from plastic to metal. However, 3D printers could be used for many other malicious purposes, such as to print components not easily affordable on the market. Let us think for example of the exploitation of 3D printers to make components blocked by an embargo.

Another argument of interest to law enforcement is the use of 3D printers for the production of counterfeit products. Criminal gangs could be interested in creating counterfeit products or device parts for making profits, but security experts are more worried by the possibility that those components could be used for sabotage. Counterfeit products could be introduced into the supply chain in order to cause anomalies and faults in the products designed. Highly sophisticated European criminals gangs operating worldwide have been using 3D printers to operate illegal activities on a large scale. How do they operate? Which are most attractive products in the

How do they operate? Which are most attractive products in the criminal underground?

You will find all the answers and many other information on the post I published on the Infosec Institute, enjoy it!

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  3D printing, security)

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