Cybersecurity Implications in 3D Printing

Automation Alley
September 23, 2022
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Cybersecurity is not discussed often in the context of additive manufacturing, but collaborative partnerships enable manufacturers to be more dynamic organizations and compete as larger entities. As the additive ecosystem becomes more connected and collaborative, manufacturers must pay attention to their risks.

As additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, continues to evolve and become more commonplace in the business world, so too does the potential for cybersecurity risks.

There is an increased risk of intellectual property theft as well as cyberattacks that could disable critical manufacturing hardware and software.

According to a Deloitte study, 40% of advanced manufacturing firms had suffered a cybersecurity incident in the past year, while 38% had suffered damages in excess of $1 million.

In order to mitigate these risks, it is important for companies who are utilizing additive manufacturing to have a strong cybersecurity strategy in place. This should include measures such as restricting access to sensitive files, encrypting data, and regular monitoring of systems.

"Just like a system of physical property rights accelerated wealth creation and prosperity, having a robust digital rights management (DRM) framework for 3D printing will allow manufacturers to monetize their intellectual property safely without having to worry about theft and unauthorized use," said Pavan Muzumdar, Automation Alley COO. Muzumdar heads up Automation Alley's 3D printing network Project DIAMOnD. "This is a critical gap that needs to be filled moving forward and DRM frameworks will allow 3D printing design development activity to flourish. The potential is virtually limitless."

In this article, we will explore the implications of additive manufacturing from a cybersecurity perspective and provide some tips on how companies can protect themselves.

What are the common cybersecurity threats associated with 3D printing?

Cybersecurity is not discussed often in the context of additive manufacturing, but collaborative partnerships enable manufacturers to be more dynamic organizations and compete as a larger entity. As the additive ecosystem becomes more connected and collaborative, manufacturers must pay attention to their risk.

Additive manufacturing poses several unique risks that could have negative consequences for companies that are unprepared. Some of the common cybersecurity threats associated with additive manufacturing include:

Deliberate insertion of defects

As 3D printing becomes a more mainstream form of manufacturing, it is likely that malicious actors will attempt to exploit the technology for their own gain. One way they could do this is by deliberately inserting defects into objects that are being printed, which could cause them to fail or malfunction.  

A recent study by the NYU Tandon School of Engineering shows that even fractional alterations to printing orientation can cause a reduction in the strength of the final product by as much as 25%.  

This means that if a malicious actor was able to insert a small defect into a print job, they could potentially cause serious damage to the final product. Even more worryingly, the team found that they were able to introduce sub-millimeter defects between printed layers that could not be detected by common industrial monitoring techniques that would weaken the product over time.

The team's research shows that, without the proper cybersecurity precautions, companies are vulnerable to hackers introducing internal defects that are both extremely damaging and almost impossible to detect until the part fails.

IP theft

Due to the nature of additive manufacturing, IP theft has been a serious concern since the technology first emerged. Hackers can easily reverse engineer a product by scanning it and then recreate it using additive manufacturing. This is a huge issue for companies that have spent years developing their products and building up their brand.

The theft of 3D printing files can also lead to the loss of competitive advantage and revenue. Since 3D printing file types are digital, they can be easily copied and shared online without the owner’s permission. This means that anyone with a printer can produce a copy of the product, which can be sold at a lower price than the original.

While in-house design and prototyping are usually done in a secure environment, the outsourcing of production to higher-volume manufacturing facilities can introduce security risks.  

If a company’s files are stolen, the thief could have the ability to produce and sell counterfeit products. This would not only damage the company’s reputation, but also result in lost sales and revenue.

Data breaches

While not specific to 3D printing, the overwhelmingly digital nature of additive manufacturing means that data breaches are a serious security concern.

If a company’s design files are stolen or leaked, its competitors could gain an advantage. Additionally, the thieves could sell the designs on the black market or use them to produce and sell counterfeit products.  

As the industry and the applications for 3D printing evolve, however, the risks of data theft become more acute. For instance, 3D printing is being increasingly adopted by the medical sector.  

The implications of a data breach in this context are far more serious than mere lost sales and revenue. If confidential patient data falls into the wrong hands, it could be used for identity theft or fraud.  

The average cost of a data breach climbed 2.6%, from USD 4.24 million in 2021 to USD 4.35 million, in 2022, putting immense pressure on businesses to shore up their cybersecurity defenses.

What can companies do to secure themselves against these risks?

The potential for cyberattacks against additive manufacturing is only going to increase as the technology becomes more prevalent. It is therefore essential that companies who are using or considering using additive manufacturing have robust cybersecurity measures in place to protect their operations.

There are a number of steps that companies can take to protect themselves from cyber-attacks, including:

Implementing strong security protocols and authentication measures

A foundational step that all companies should take is to implement strong security protocols and authentication measures. This includes ensuring that only authorized personnel have access to additive manufacturing systems and data, and that all data is encrypted.

Investing in cyber-security insurance

Another important step that companies can take is to invest in cyber-security insurance. This type of insurance can help cover the costs of recovery in the event of a successful cyber-attack. Given the huge potential cost of a data breach, this kind of insurance is becoming increasingly vital.

Educating employees about cybersecurity risks

Another important step that companies can take is to educate their employees about cybersecurity risks. Employees should be aware of the dangers of clicking on links or opening attachments from unknown sources, and they should know how to report

Encrypting data and communication channels

One of the most important steps that companies can take to improve their cyber-security is to encrypt their data and communication channels. This will make it much more difficult for hackers to access sensitive information.

Conducting regular security audits and risk assessments

All companies, no matter their size, should regularly conduct security audits and risk assessments. This will help them to identify potential vulnerabilities and take steps to mitigate the risks.

Additionally, companies should work with their manufacturing and supply chain partners to ensure that they have adequate cybersecurity measures in place. This is especially important for companies that rely on third-party suppliers.

Reducing the cyber risk

By taking these precautions, companies can help to mitigate the risk of cyberattacks and further secure their operations. In today's digital age, cybersecurity is an essential part of doing business, and for additive manufacturers, it is no different.

Automation Alley
Automation Alley

Automation Alley is a World Economic Forum Advanced Manufacturing Hub (AMHUB) for North America and a nonprofit Industry 4.0 knowledge center with a global outlook and a regional focus. We facilitate public-private partnerships by connecting industry, education and government to fuel Michigan's economy.

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