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Alexey Churchwell

Encrypting 3D Files: The Next Step in Printing Security?

Any 3D file can easily be shared; the information is digital, which means that all you need is a place to download it from, and you can make the object. This is both a beautiful aspect of 3D printing and a curse. Yes, you can share anything – but that means absolutely anything, including the blueprints for dangerous items. When the files for the first 3D printed gun were released, they were quickly taken down by the United States government. Unfortunately, the files had already spread around the internet, and are still available from some torrent sites.

Sites like Thingiverse, which allows you to upload the 3D blueprints you have created, combat this by filtering out dangerous or copyrighted material. But a new application might change that.

Encrypting Your 3D Files

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, a 3D printing enthusiast, recently designed an application that allows you to encrypt – and decrypt – and 3D file, so long as you have the code for it. The encryption actually changes the way the file looks to any image scanners; instead of the object that the file will actually print, you would see a warped shape.

A gun file, before and after warping. Image credit Forbes.

On the one hand, this kind of application is great for security purposes. If you need to pass along the blueprints for your latest invention, or want to manufacture a company exclusive model of an item, encryption will allow you to transfer the data safely. You can’t handcuff documents to your wrist if they’re digital, but you can make sure that no one else can access them.

On the other hand, this application allows dangerous files to make their way into 3D blueprint databases. With warped images and unreadable data, censoring these kinds of files becomes nearly impossible. Yes, you’d still need the code to open it, but that information could be provided on a separate site with little difficulty.

From a security standpoint, Plummer-Fernandez’s application has both pros and cons. 3D printing sites will need to find a workaround to prevent illegal files from getting through, but such a workaround might render the security features of the software void. Regardless of whether you think it’s good or bad, it’s definitely something new to think about.


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