Spies Can Tell What a 3D Printer is Making by Listening to it

By Gary Cutlack on at

The latest bit of thinking in the industrial espionage world is really quite interesting, with analysts suggesting that the noises made by major brands of 3D printers could be reverse engineered to reveal the thing they're printing.

So all you'd need to do to steal precise schematics of Jony Ive's latest thinner thing would be to record the sounds made by the printer as he's bashing out a 3D printed prototype. The thinking has been done by a team at the University of California, where a recording of the sounds made by a 3D printer's motors was analysed to reveal the placings and movements of its little nozzle thing, in proof of an exploit they call an Acoustic Side Channel Attack.

"My group basically stumbled upon this finding last summer as we were doing work to try to understand the relationship between information and energy flows," said Prof. Mohammad Al Faruque of the Advanced Integrated Cyber-Physical Systems lab.

"According to the fundamental laws of physics, energy is not consumed; it's converted from one form to another -- electromagnetic to kinetic, for example. Some forms of energy are translated in meaningful and useful ways; others become emissions, which may unintentionally disclose secret information," he explained, in a complicated way of saying making stuff = sound clues. Like, you could fake a chair by listening to the chipping sounds of a carpenter.

The team suggests that white noise generators might be employed by security conscious developers in the future, to stop the iPhone leaks of the future being assembled via stolen audio files. [Cnet]

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