Fact Checking Hollywood 3D Printer Hacking

Posted on February 3rd, 2023

How accurate is this scene from Person of Interest Honor Among Thieves – Season 4 Episode 7? In this scene we see a cyber attacker using malicious code to cause a 3D printer to catch fire.

Verdict = Partially Accurate

This scene is technically feasible but glosses over the amount of backend research needed and how a lab environment with the target equipment would need to be set up to verify the attack. It is also unlikely that a fire could start within such a short time frame.

Here are two real world examples of how the 3D printer control board fire scene from Person of Interest could actually play out:

Creality Control Board

This is an example of a poor connection method from the factory.  The wires are “tinned” which means solder has been applied to the loose wires which are then inserted into the green terminal block.  The issue with this particular connection is that the bed heater draws enough power to heat the solder material up to the point of melting out.  This in turn leaves a loose connection that has high current passing through – a recipe for fire as seen above. 

RAMPS Control Board

On the RAMPS board a similar problem exists.  The issue here is not tinned wires but rather an improperly rated terminal block that is inappropriate for the type of usage seen in additive systems.

In order to develop an exploit that causes a 3D printer fire via hacking it is necessary to research existing additive manufacturing fire case studies.  This Reddit post is an example of OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence) documenting a close call where a Creality printer nearly caught on fire.

Here the other users providing advice to the poster with the melted terminal have also provided malicious actors insights into how to replicate this failure.  This is also the case with the RAMPS board.  The 3D Print GENERAL store is selling upgraded terminal blocks for the RAMPS controller which suggests that any board that has not received an upgrade is susceptible to this type of damage.  In both cases the damage is occurring under normal operating conditions due to poor quality standards from the OEM.  If these operating conditions are altered via cyber intrusion the results will be even more destructive.

Background research will also help eliminate mechanisms for producing a fire remotely.  For example, the Anet A8, a printer that has gained infamy as the most fire prone 3D printer after burning multiple houses down, would not be the best candidate for a hacker induced fire.  The reason being is the mechanism that causes the fire is a physical defect that causes the heating elements to dislodge from the toolhead causing runaway thermal conditions.  This is not possible to achieve unless you have physical access to the device.

Visibility into your manufacturing networks is crucial in order to prevent and detect these types of destructive cyber intrusions.  BISON AM alerts to over 35 commands that can be used for destructive actions against AM environments.  A thermal history is recorded for every print job and can be used to detect thermal runaway conditions that cause fire dangers.  

If you are interested in learning more about securing Additive Manufacturing or a demonstration of BreakPoint Lab’s BISON AM solution capability, please contact us at info@breakpoint-labs.com