I’m in ur Printrbot bed, sniffin ur noises.Lee Hutchinson
Let’s say the manufacturer up the street is making widgets with a 3D printer and you’d like to get in on that action.
If you want to clone those coveted 3D objects, all you need is an audio recorder in the room with the printer. Using just the noises emitted by the printer’s stepper motors, you have up to a 92 percent chance of perfectly replicating the object.
According to a new paper published in Science, researchers have even replicated a key using this technique.
A group of “cyber-physical systems researchers” will present the hack next week at a conference devoted to cyber-physical systems in Vienna.
It’s the next frontier in IP piracy, which could conceivably lead to a future Pirate Bay full of files that describe everything from the latest mobile device parts to human bones for transplant.
Mara Hvistendahl reports in Science that the researchers used a consumer grade Printrbot to make three objects: a tiny square, a tiny triangle, and a standard-sized key.
Then they tested how well the source code for each could be reconstructed from recordings.
Borrowing methods from speech pattern recognition, they found that a computer could “learn” an object’s code with an average accuracy of 78%.
The accuracy with a key, the most complex shape tested, was 92%. (The square and triangle were smaller, which made their designs harder to recreate.)
To grab the audio, the researchers had to place a recorder at a very specific angle near the 3D printer.
For now, they aren’t certain whether the technique will work in noisy places or through walls.
But a wily attacker could potentially place a small, networked recorder (or even a phone) near 3D printers in a fabrication facility, access it remotely, and start recording everything she wanted to pirate.
There are other limitations, too.
This hack won’t pick up printer settings like temperature, which can be crucial to reverse-engineering a 3D object. A cyber-physical systems researcher from UC Irvine who worked on the hack told Science that attackers who go after valuable IP will likely figure out ways to add “additional side channels like thermal profiles and electromagnetic radiation.”
Still, even with nothing but sound data, this technique would be perfect for pirating prototypes or architectural models, both of which could be key to industrial espionage—or just a really great plot twist in a heist movie.