New technique for pirating from 3D printers is the next frontier in theft

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, 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. She continues:

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.

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