Three methods for combating 3-D printer cyberattacks

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | August 22, 2017
CT Cyber Security Health IT X-Ray
Study proposes three methods for
combating cyberattacks in 3-D printers
Health care organizations and other industries may soon have three new means for combating cyberattacks, one of which involves the use of imaging technology.

Researchers at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Georgia Institute of Technology have devised three techniques to determine if printers have been hacked and pose danger to a facility. Their findings were compiled into a study published at the 26th USENIX Security Symposium in Vancouver, Canada.

“With the advent of 3-D bioprinting, there needs to be an increased effort in the verification of 3-D printed organic material, such as organs or tissues,” Luis Garcia, one of the authors of the study, told HCB News. “Our three methods of verification will be able to detect any imperfections in the 3-D printed model that were introduced either maliciously or by user-error … if we can detect an imperfection early in the printing process, we can shut down the print and save both time and material.”

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The first two techniques consisted of studying the movement of printer parts and the sounds made by the printer.

Filament, which consists of materials, such as plastic or metal, was pushed through the extruder - also known as the “arm” of the printer - to form objects. During this process, researchers used sensors to track the movement of the extruder, and microphones to monitor the noises made during printing.

The third involved using CT scanners and Raman spectroscopy to examine printed objects. For this test, tiny gold nanoparticles were injected into the filament to act as contrast agents. The filament was inserted through the extruder to produce objects which were then scanned to study shifts in the position of the nanoparticles, as well as where there may be holes and other defects.

Though the CT and Raman spectroscopy tests showed some progress in detecting defects, it does not necessarily mean that they are the most effective scanning tools in every instance.

“For the effectiveness of these scanning modalities, it really is domain-specific,” said Garcia. “The choice of the scanner would depend on the materials required for the print as well as the depth of the secondary implanted material. For instance, the Raman spectroscopy has depth limitations but is effective at detecting particular materials. The CT scanner provides a greater depth of scanning, but this requires the embedded markers to have a high contrast in X-ray density from the base material.”

The authors believe that though these methods will not become standard forms of protection against cyberattacks, they will act as additional tools to assist domain-specific verification methods.

“These specific methods will probably not be standard tools, but we do envision the overall concept of using complementary verification methods to become standardized for both run-time and post-production verification, in order to ensure integrity for safety-critical applications, as well as to save on costs of time and materials,” said Garcia.

The authors will continue to search for more ways to combat cyberattacks in 3-D printers to propose further forms of defense.

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