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Researchers hack 3D printer to crash drone

Fri 21 Oct 2016

A team of researchers from universities in Israel, the U.S. and Singapore have uncovered a potentially dangerous and costly cyber threat: hacking 3D manufacturing systems.

The attack vector in question is additive printing, where the 3D printer builds up layers of formed material in minute increments, often with undercut supports intended for later removal, and, increasingly, with varied source material. The team conducted an intensive study on the weaknesses of a networked 3D printing system, and then formulated an experiment to test those weaknesses in practice.

3d-printing-gurion-hackThey found that by altering the schematic of a 3D printed replacement part they were able to create a drone propeller that looked exactly like a proper part, but that failed dramatically in use.

In their paper, dro0wned, the team outlined two different methods in which this type of interference can be used to disable a manufactured part by altering the schematics used by a 3D printer.

One method is to alter the blueprints so that a part is made weaker and fails even under normal operating conditions. The other is to alter the schematics so that the part develops material fatigue faster than expected and breaks more quickly than expected, again under normal conditions.

Either method would be difficult to discern, as the part would look the same and initially, would function the same as the original design. It wouldn’t fail in assembly, it would fail under use.

'Two printed propellers site-by-site. The Upper is benign and the lower is sabotaged'

‘Two printed propellers site-by-site. The Upper is benign and the lower is sabotaged’

In the experiment, the team hacked into a 3D printer and altered the design of a replacement propeller for a sophisticated UAV. The hack resulted in the manufacture of an altered replacement part which was installed on the drone and broke during acceleration, causing the drone to fall from the sky.

The paper also covered different attack vectors that could be used in conducting a cyber attack on a 3D printer, including software attacks such as code injection, infiltration, or supply chain access as well as hardware and network based attacks.

Project lead Professor Yuval Elovici said,  “With the growth of additive manufacturing worldwide, we believe the ability to conduct malicious sabotage of these systems will attract the attention of many adversaries, ranging from criminal gangs to state actors, who will aim either for profit or for geopolitical power.” He continued, “This is the first experimental proof of a complete attack chain initiated by sabotaging the 3D-printed propeller.”

The 3D printer industry is expected to continue to grow by 31% every year, with a worldwide revenue of $21 billion by 2020. As the market grows, and usage become more prevalent, users will become more vulnerable to cyber attacks of this nature.


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