A new, but worrying trend is happening in the 3D printing industry. We hear that a new technique is out that will literally allow thieves to steal 3D printer outputs through reverse engineering. The technique is so easy that most researchers or manufacturers, who are inventing designs through their 3D printers, will never know the leak until they see the copy showcased elsewhere!
Apparently, all that is needed is an audio recorder that will record the noises emitted by the printer’s stepper motors, and voila; you can reverse engineer a design with 92 percent accuracy. If reports are to be believed, some researchers have even seen success in replicating a key using this method.
The hack will be presented at a conference devoted to cyber-physical systems in Vienna. This 3D printing piracy they believe, will lead to a new future in piracy, wherein you can steal files that could describe anything from the latest mobile device parts to human bones or even human organs for transplant.
Mara Hvistendahl reports in Science that the researchers used a consumer grade Printrbot to make three objects: a tiny square, a tiny triangle, and a standard-sized key…“Then they tested how well the source code for each could be reconstructed from recordings. Borrowing methods from speech pattern recognition, they found that a computer could “learn” an object’s code with an average accuracy of 78%. The accuracy with a key, the most complex shape tested, was 92%. (The square and triangle were smaller, which made their designs harder to recreate.)”
Going back to the audio that is key to this steal, researchers say the audio recorder must be placed at a very specific angle near the 3D printer. Looks like a clever thief could potentially place a small, networked recorder – even a phone, near a 3D printer, to remotely access designs and ideas, which could have taken the manufacturer months – if not years – to perfect. It is, however, unclear whether this technique would work in noisy places or through walls.
Thankfully, the technique isn’t perfect. For instance, the audio recorder will not pick up other parameters that are crucial to successful reverse engineering, such as the temperature of the 3D printer. However, attackers who will go for this technique might eventually figure out ways to address these obstacles using channels such as thermal profiling and electromagnetic radiation.
Sounds made by a 3D Printer
This technique has probably set off a lot of alarms. With only the sound data, thieves can easily steal prototypes or architectural models, and indulge in high-level industrial espionage.