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Cybersecurity Best Practices for 3D Printing Operations

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Over the past decade, manufacturers have increasingly relied on additive manufacturing (AM) to improve operational efficiency. Now that 3D printing is a common industrial tool, cybersecurity risks need to be addressed and mitigated to reduce the potential for IP theft and data loss. While there are numerous threats you must consider, you can keep serious issues at bay by adhering to best practices for 3D printing cybersecurity.

Common Cybersecurity Risks with 3D Printing Operations

Just like your computer or HMI device, 3D printers are susceptible to numerous cybersecurity risks. As these systems become more connected to the manufacturing ecosystem, the potential of and motivation for intrusions increases. If your company doesn’t make simple preparations for these threats now, the consequences could be severe.

IP Theft

IP theft is one of the top concerns when it comes to manufacturing cybersecurity — hackers may attempt to reverse engineer products by scanning and recreating them. Since 3D printing files are digital, a hacker could also copy and share them. Once the files are out there, it’s impossible to get them secured again. If your 3D printers perform the prototyping and design processes in your facilities, cybersecurity should be high on your list of concerns.  

Large manufacturers often spend millions or billions of dollars on R&D for a single product, which means that IP theft can be highly damaging to the company and brand. Reducing the number of touchpoints among your operational technology only leads to a more protected system. With 3D printers only growing in use and popularity, it’s critical to add another layer of protection for a holistically resilient operation.

Intentional Defects

Cybercriminals can also implement intentional defects into 3D printed products, which might lead to them malfunctioning or failing altogether. Even the smallest changes to the orientation can lead to the strength of the finished product being damaged by up to 25%.

These alterations are so small that they can’t be readily detected by traditional monitoring techniques. If a company doesn’t take the right precautions regarding its cybersecurity efforts, defects of this nature can impact thousands of products without warning. 

Best Practices for 3D Printing Cybersecurity 

While cybersecurity risks have the potential to cause millions in damage to your business through data loss, design compromises, and other dangers, there are many steps you can take to minimize risk.

Perform a Risk Evaluation

The key to preventing and addressing threats is to regularly perform risk evaluations. This process allows you to effectively identify all types of cybersecurity threats that could adversely affect your operations. Once you detect risks, learn how they might impact your processes.

By studying all known threats, you can create countermeasures that are capable of stopping hacks and other intrusions in their tracks. Keep in mind that data modification and loss can occur at any time throughout the 3D printing cycle, which is why risk evaluations need to be performed as often as possible.

Inspect Systems Regularly

It’s a good idea to get in the habit of regularly inspecting your systems. Even after you’ve implemented security systems, you’ll want to monitor your hardware and perform routine safety inspections daily. The purpose of these inspections is to make sure your cybersecurity measures are intact. You’ll also be able to identify dangers early on.

Utilize Network Segmentation

Connected systems can be susceptible to large-scale cybersecurity threats. One of the most effective ways of ensuring your 3D printer is safe is to isolate it from other critical networks within your operation. Just like an electrical breaker prevents a power surge from affecting the entire electrical system, isolating your 3D printer helps contain and mitigate potential security breaches. 

Use Authentication Techniques and Security Protocols

By restricting connection access to authorized personnel, you can create another layer of security here. Every 3D printing manufacturer should integrate powerful authentication measures and security protocols into their operations. You can keep internal cybersecurity attacks to a minimum by only allowing authorized personnel to access your 3D printing data and systems.

Focus on Encryption

Encryption allows you to keep your 3D printing information secure from anyone who doesn’t have the right password. When an authorized employee enters the correct key, data will be restored to a readable state. As touched upon previously, make sure that the number of people who have access to encrypted data is kept to a minimum. Implementing these protocols should help you protect confidential data.

Communication Protocols

Employing encrypted communication protocols adds a layer of protection, making it significantly harder for hackers to intercept or manipulate files during the transfer process. For wireless 3D printers, it is imperative to operate on secure Wi-Fi networks. Secure communication is a cornerstone of 3D printing cybersecurity, ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of data transferred between computers and printers.

Create a Digital Twin

Digital twins are virtual replicas of physical objects or systems. They are increasingly utilized in within 3D printing operations to optimize design, monitor performance, and simulate real-world scenarios. When addressing 3D printing cybersecurity within the context of digital twins, several key aspects should be considered.

Improve Operational Efficiency with 3D Printing Cybersecurity

As you tackle the cybersecurity challenges associated with 3D printing, explore the benefits of IT/OT convergence. This approach enables the seamless integration of your operational technology systems with your information technology infrastructure, providing a unified and cohesive environment. OT (Operational Technology) systems monitor processes, devices, and events, while IT (Information Technology) systems help you collect and manage data. By embracing IT/OT convergence within your operation, you can streamline communication, enhance coordination between different systems, and strengthen overall cybersecurity measures.

The increasing viability of 3D printing allows companies to minimize waste, reduce costs, and perform rapid prototyping. To continue taking advantage of this mold-breaking technology, adopt the best practices for protecting it from cybersecurity threats. From network segmentation to communication protocols, a variety of tactics can bolster your cyber defense.

About the Author

Brandon Long is a writer at Business Tech Innovations specializing in software and cybersecurity. With expertise in technology and manufacturing, his articles empower businesses to navigate the dynamic world of innovation with peace of mind.

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