Let’s admit it: none of us were expecting hackers to pick 3D printers as a target for attacks, but here we are. The reason is pretty simple, these devices have a strong presence in production today. The sad part is – the more popular any device grows, the more exposed it becomes to the cybercriminals.
The biggest question is: what can we do to stop this? Using an antivirus solution with an advanced firewall might be a good place to start. But don’t expect this to be a Kasperksy, Norton, or PC Pitstop review. Instead, just be aware that it is possible to identify the early signs of the threats and defend your printers.
A Closer Look At 3D Printers
Did you know that 3D printers make specific sounds when they print something? That’s right, and if you listen carefully, you might be able to recognize a pattern. Or, better yet, let the computers handle this. Some esearchers did exactly that: they launched a reference print and recorded all the “noise” that the device made. Next, they let a specific program that recognizes algorithms “listen” to it.
By the end of another printing session, they compared its “soundtrack” to the first one. When everything matched closely, that meant no hacker had access to the equipment. Of course, there’s still a lot of perfecting to do, but this method does really work and can detect even the slightest deviations.
Recording the Movements
When a 3D printer is working, its head is constantly moving from one place to another, creating the necessary object. So, it might be a good idea to install a high-precision sensor fore recording the movements. Similarly to the sound-recording concept, it’s necessary to record a reference and then compare it to all the new printing sessions.
And what if you could combine these two methods? But that’s not it yet! There’s another interesting thing we can do.
Nanoparticles as Advantage
Have you heard about nanoparticles? These ultrafine particles are incredibly tiny (1-100 nanometers in diameter) and consist of no more than a couple of thousand atoms. They are used in the production of sunscreens, ceramic coatings, and windows. Nanoparticles can be transparent, stain-repellent, and crack resistant, and that’s in great demand in manufacturing.
And what does that have to do with 3D printing? Here’s what: the extrusion material can be saturated with nanoparticles. That will make it easily recognizable. Thus, when cybercriminals try to interfere with the process, the signature will change, signaling that something’s wrong.
As scientists pay attention to such things, one can see that 3D printers are incredibly vulnerable. The significant reason refers to insecure networks. At the most, they’re running a regular firewall that isn’t capable of blocking network-based attacks. Plus, printers automatically open up to any incoming connections.
To prevent hackers from taking over your equipment, you can use an anti-malware program (or, better yet, a security suite). Compared to a regular anti-virus solution, a security suite is more advanced and comes packed protection modules and tools.
On the downside, new viruses and Trojans emerge every single day. That means even the most advanced security solution might not be able to stop them all. With that said, you should still consider purchasing one and running it on the main computer that controls all the printers. It won’t be a brick wall, but the added layer of protection can never be superfluous.
Why would you even think about encrypting anything? To keep the criminals from causing damage to your system, of course! Even when they do breach the security line and access these files, they won’t be able to do anything with them. Encrypted data cannot be analyzed, edited, or copied. By doing this, you’ll kill two birds: prevent industrial sabotage and keep your intellectual property intact.
The market is full of encryption tools and services that were specifically tailored to be effective in 3D printing networks. They have been tested and certified by dozens of US-based organizations and are relatively easy to add to an existing network. Encryptors might not be particularly cheap, but if you want to secure your data and avoid disasters, you’ll have to invest in one.
As we learned today, even 3D printers aren’t safe from online attacks. The worst part about this – you won’t be able to recognize the flaws until it is too late and the damage is done. That’s why the protection techniques we discussed today are so important.