3D-printed model can be re-created with impressive accuracy by recording the printing sounds, scientists have found. These 3D printers create information-carrying acoustic sounds during printing, which determine the accurate movements of the printer nozzle.

Researchers said that 3D printers can be hacked by recording its printing sounds by using any recording device, including a smartphone. The sounds can then be reverse engineered to create a duplicate of the 3D-printed object.

Researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) accidentally discovered this 3D printer hack and security risk last year during their research on the link between energy flows and information.

The fundamental laws of physics state that energy is converted from one form to a new one – for instance – electromagnetic energy to kinetic, explained UCI's computer scientist and electrical engineer Mohammad Al Faruque. Energy is not consumed, it changes its forms.

"Some forms of energy are translated in meaningful and useful ways; others become emissions, which may unintentionally disclose secret information," added Al Faruque, the director of the university's Advanced Integrated Cyber-Physical Systems Lab.

In the demonstration, the research team copied the 3D printer sounds as the machine creates a key-shaped object. The recorded sounds were then used to re-create the object with almost 90 percent accuracy.

Al Faruque said that people who work at various manufacturing plants may not be monitored closely for smartphone usage or any other recording device, which can potentially lead to huge financial loses if the product information and process are copied during the creation of prototypes.

Al Faruque advised that workers shouldn't be allowed to carry smartphones during the prototype development. He also added that engineers should develop ways on how to mask the 3D printer's acoustic sounds.

In the meantime, the research team suggested the addition of a device that creates white noise at the facilities to help protect intellectual property.

Al Faruque's team created a video presentation about their discovery titled "Acoustic Side-Channel Attacks on Additive Manufacturing Systems." The research will be presented at the International Conference on Cyber-Physical Systems to be held in Vienna this April.

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