3D Printing: A Dark Side

Written by Mike Awada on . Posted in Gadgets, Technology


Body parts, jewelry, food: what once required extreme craftsmanship and an incredible amount of time and resources is being reduced to an afterthought. Our grandparents would never have believed that we could sit at home andprint a feedwater heater for a 1907 White Steamer, but that’s exactly what’s happening. Although 3D printing may break down barriers and revolutionize manufacturing, we’re quickly learning about a number of dangerous drawbacks.

Printed Weapons

Using three dimensional printing, key weapon components can be manufactured out of thin air. After the two devastating shootings of the last month, concern over gun control is growing within the United States. Deadly weapons can be purchased by anyone without a criminal record, but printing them from home will certainly amplify these concerns.


Last month, a gentleman successfully printed the lower receiver of an AR-15, and used it in conjunction with standard parts to fire live ammunition. On his blog, the man articulates his belief that a grand array of parts can be printed if the printing material is able to withstand a certain amount of torque. His assumption is that in the short term, most components of a rifle can be printed, but until we’re able to be more selective with the materials used in 3D printers, we’ll be limited to low performance parts. While individuals have been able to manufacture gun parts in the past, it’s never been as easy as it is now with 3D manufacturing.

ATM Skimming

ATM skimming occurs when a physical add-on is attached to an automatic teller machine, unbeknownst to the user. This artificial technology is able to capture data from the magnetic strip of a debit card. Skimming attachments have been made to disguise tiny, unnoticeable cameras that can snag pin codes. Though most of us wouldn’t know it, this tactic has been ongoing for years.


3D printing is making this form of fraud more difficult to detect than ever. In fact, a group of men was arrested for stealing over $400K over a two year period using a $10,000 3D printer. ATM skimming is allowing this dodgy 3D printing technology to become more mainstream, and it’s trickling down to other arenas. Skimming can occur at gas stations, vending machines, and a number of other venues. It’s definitely something to keep an eye out for moving forward.

3D Printed Keys

Handcuffs are made from the strongest materials on Earth to keep even the most dangerous criminals at bay. The problem is, police departments typically employ a single key shape for all cuffs for ease of prisoner transport.

A German hacker has taken it upon himself to prove to police the world over that there are flaws in their detainment and prisoner movement systems. The man known simply as “Ray” has printed a number of generic plastic keys that easily unlock professional grade handcuffs made by two of the world’s most prominent manufacturers.


This should put police on notice for two reasons. First off, the original keys (which are supposed to be only available to federal institutions) were easily purchased on E-bay. Secondly, Ray intends on uploading the CAD drawings of the keys for all to use on the internet. Ray states that his motives are not to help criminals, but to enlighten police to this dangerous problem. Says Ray, “If someone is planning a prison or court escape, he can do it without our help, we’re just making everyone aware, both the hackers and the police.”

Counterfeiting and Intellectual Property

One of the most recognizable 3D printer manufacturers, MakerBot, is stirring up another debate. MakerBot owns an open source design sharing website called Thingiverse.com. On Thingiverse, diagrams for printing a number of objects are shared everyday. Some of these are free for all to use, but many are copyrighted materials. The CEO of the company, Bre Pettis, doesn’t seem to think there’s much of a problem. “I don’t think we need a marketplace. It’s a sharing world. We are at the dawn of the age of sharing where even if you try to sell things the world is going to share it anyway.”

Like the world of Star Wars, which has already been 3D printed, this new age industry will possess a formidable dark side. How we will combat it remains to be seen.

What other problems can you see arising at the hands of 3D printing?



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Comments (2)

  • Chris


    “First off, the original keys (which are supposed to be only available to federal institutions) were easily purchased on E-bay.”

    Anyone can purchase handcuff keys. They are available for a few dollars at every police store. Even Amazon.com sells a wide variety of them.


  • Mike Awada


    I should have specified, the keys which he replicated were from the German manufacturer Bonowi and the English firm Chubb. Unlike many other companies, according to Forbes, these two “attempt to control the distribution of their keys to keep them exclusively in the hands of authorized buyers such as law enforcement.”


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