Could Terrorists Hack 3D Printers to Halt Military Manufacturing, or Even Kill?

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cyber-5Here we are, a day after the 13th anniversary of what could be considered the most tragic day in American History, September 11th 2001. On that day, terrorists held an entire nation of close to 300 million individuals hostage as we all watched helplessly as the shocking attack took place on American soil.

Thankfully, similar events have been prevented since then, through the courageous men and women fighting to protect the ideology behind the American Constitution. With capabilities to cause direct destruction to America and its allies contained, terrorists, as well as nations who view us as an enemy, are said to be looking into a whole new form of terrorism and warfare–cyberterrorism.

You may not think that a simple computer virus or worm could cause physical destruction to both machinery and people, but in June of 2010 this proved to be a worthwhile fear. Stuxnet, a cyber-3computer worm from unknown origins, compromised Iranian programmable logic controllers (PLCs). In doing so, the worm was able to collect valuable information on the Iranian nuclear program, and more impressively cause the nuclear centrifuges within the facility to spin extremely fast, tearing themselves apart. Prior to being contained, it is estimated that approximately 20% of all the centrifuges within the Natanz nuclear enrichment lab in Iran had been destroyed.

What this taught us, is that there is an entirely new type of warfare, one which can cross borders over simple internet cables, and one which could eventually be even more terrifying than a tank, bomber, or grenade.

A recent report issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has highlighted some of the risks which 3D printing could present in terms of vulnerability to outside attacks. In the report, the Department of Commerce has gone over several ways in which 3D printers could be used in an attack, to stifle manufacturing, cause harm to equipment, and even be used to cause explosions, harming or killing American citizens.

cyber2The report, which is more of a guide for defense manufacturers to follow in order to secure their systems, examines ‘replicating devices’ in general, which could be 3D printers, 2D printers, scanners, and copiers, with 3D printing being one of the the main concerns.

There are several ways in which hackers could infiltrate defense manufacturing facilities, to cause more than just a headache within the manufacturing process. For instance, if one manufacturer were to be utilizing direct metal laser sintering (SLS) machines to fabricate a particular part for a military weapon, hackers could exploit vulnerabilities within the system to do several things.

Slow Down Production:

Attacks could halt the production of manufacturing via denial of service (DOS) attacks which overload the computer system running the machine. Such an attack could create a shortage of supply for the military, should the attack be tough to mitigate. Hackers could also infiltrate hard drive systems, corrupting data, and leading to hardware failure. This could halt manufacturing for several days.

Injure or Even Kill People:

Terrorists could attack hard drive systems to change settings within a particular machine. Hard drives and networks provide the basic instructions to additive manufacturing machines. The ability to control settings via the hard drive or network running that system could be catastrophic. For instance, hackers could change settings which cause the printer to overheat. When working with high powered lasers which produce extreme temperatures, any fluctuation could be dangerous for those in the vicinity of the printer.

In November of last year, Powderpart Inc. saw an explosion within their printing facility which caused 3rd degree burns to an employee.

“The fire and explosion hazards when working with titanium and aluminum are established, particularly when the materials are in powder form,” said Jeffrey Erskine, Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s area director for Middlesex and Essex counties in Mass. “Just as it’s easier to start a campfire with kindling than with logs, it’s easier for a metal fire to start when you’re working with metal powder that is as fine as confectioner’s cyber1sugar.”

The incorrect mixture of certain metals while being melted at extremely high temperatures could also create a chemical reaction, leading to an explosion. If a hacker is able to take over a machine and give it directions to use a certain mixture of different materials which are at its disposable, a chemical explosion could also take place.

No, we are not going to see mass destruction, or hundreds of deaths in an attack, however, we could see a significant undermining of important manufacturing networks, which the military and economy rely heavily on. As these technologies become more advanced, and systems begin utilizing an ever expanding number of chemicals and flammable materials, both our manufacturing infrastructure, as well as those employees working with these machines will be put at greater risk.  That is unless the proper precautions and security measures are implemented.

Let’s hear your thoughts on the possibility of terrorists or other governments infiltrating manufacturing infrastructure to attack a nation from afar. Discuss in the 3D printing terrorism forum thread on


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