Article

Can smartphones hack 3D printers?

  • Nimish Sany
  • 10 September , 2016

3D printing is making its presence felt in almost all industries and with great power comes great responsibility. So can 3D printers, in the form they’re now, be trusted with sensitive data about the products they’re tasked to make? Researchers at the University of Buffalo say NO. A smartphone, according to the researchers, makes an ideal tool to ‘access’ a 3D printer. Wenyao Xu, lead researcher of the team and assistant Professor at University at Buffalo in New York says, “Many companies are betting on 3-D printing to revolutionize their businesses, but there are still security unknowns associated with these machines that leave intellectual property vulnerable.”

illustration of the  hacking process using a smartphone

Illustration of the hacking process using a smartphone. Image: Wenyao Xu

Modern 3D printers are equipped with encryption softwares which make them elusive from cyber hacking, which is exactly why the researchers decided to try a different yet less obvious approach. The researchers tweaked a smartphone’s built in sensors so as to measure the electromagnetic and acoustic signals emitted from a 3D printer. The sensors then relayed back the information, such as the printer nozzle’s position during printing, to the smartphone. Out of the useful data obtained, 80 percent was observed to be contributed by electromagnetic waves. The smartphone was able to collect necessary information to replicate the object being printed, from a distance of 0.2 meters, with an accuracy of 94% for objects with simple geometry and accuracy above 90% for objects with complex and intricate designs such an automobile part or an implant.

“The tests show that smartphones are quite capable of retrieving enough data to put sensitive information at risk,” says Kui Ren, Professor at University at Buffalo and a member of the research team, in a university statement.

Author

Nimish Sany: I bleed my thoughts on paper. And if I cant find a paper, blogs serve the purpose just fine.

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