Ben-Gurion University (BGU) cyber security experts, as part of an international research team, were able to sabotage a drone by hacking the computer controlling the 3D printer that made its parts.
The study was detailed in a research paper, a joint effort from researchers at BGU, the University of South Alabama, and Singapore University of Technology and Design.
Using a phishing attack, the researchers gained access to the PC that was connected to the 3D printer. Then, after finding the design files for the propeller of the drone, they replaced the file with an altered version that, after being printed and installed, performed incorrectly and caused a crash.
"Initially we focused on checking whether the 3D printer can be hacked," says Prof. Yuval Elovici, director of the Deutsche Telekom Innovation Labs@BGU and the BGU Cyber Security Research Center (CSRC). "Quickly, we realized that such an attack cannot scale due to the huge variety of 3D printers, so we decided to focus on how attackers may intervene in a generic way in the process between design and production."
In the original field trial, the team was able to fly the drone for about two minutes before the propeller failed. The researchers worked on augmenting the attachment surface joints with gaps, weakening the attachment in a visually imperceptible way.
"We designed the cavities such that the propeller will break after two minutes of intensive operation," says Prof. Elovici. The goal of the research is to call attention to security vulnerabilities in this new but growing method of manufacturing.
"Imagine that an adversary can sabotage functional parts employed in an airplane's jet engines," says Prof. Elovici. "Such an attack could cost lives, cause economic loss, disrupt industry, and threaten a country's national security."
To combat this, the researchers recommend a higher level of scrutiny in the manufacturing process.
"Before printing an object, there is a need to check that the file was not modified, and there are many cryptographic means that can be used in order to achieve this goal," Prof. Elovici says.
Source and top image: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev