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Secret audit findings hit Navy's hyped 3D printing boom

Hacker attacks due to sloppy security could jeopardize lives

Cpl. Jaden Murry getting new teeth
Cpl. Jaden Murry getting new teeth

San Diego Navy labs and bases that employ so-called 3D printing technology – used to churn out everything from aircraft parts to teeth – are at high risk of hacker attacks, says a heavily redacted July 1 cybersecurity audit report by the Pentagon's Office of Inspector General.

The military uses 3D printing, technically called Additive Manufacturing, to make "molds for personal protection body armor, parts for tactical vehicles, brackets for weapons systems, and medical brackets for weapons systems," the audit says.

In addition, the process produces medical implants and artificial body implants and prostheses, including a publicized San Diego Naval Hospital procedure during which a Twenty-Nine Palms-based Marine got a set of 3D-printed teeth following surgery for a tumor in his lower jaw.

Also making news here earlier this year was a 3D printing-related patent granted to the Naval Information Warfare Center here in March for an invention called "Smart Parts: Embedded Sensors for Use in Additive Manufactured Parts."

"The [Defense Department] also uses AM to create spare parts on demand, which reduces the need to store or maintain large on hand inventories, allowing units to relocate quickly if mission requirements change," according to the audit report.

The practice has become so successful that the military is trying to license its 3D technology to private players.

"TechLink, the Department of Defense's national partnership intermediary for technology transfer, provides no-cost guidance to companies evaluating Navy inventions for commercialization, helping prepare their license applications and navigating the process," notes TechLink's sponsored website.

But this summer's Pentagon audit warns that data leaks due to sloppy security could become widespread, risking national security. And so far, the military's progress in locking down sensitive 3D printing secrets has been less than adequate, the report says.

"The compromise of AM design data could allow an adversary to re-create and use [military] technology to the adversary's advantage on the battlefield.

"In addition, if malicious actors change the AM design data, the changes could affect the end strength and utility of the 3D-printed products."

Even mundane security chores have been neglected, according to the audit, opening the door to cascading vulnerabilities. "The need to update operating systems is critical to protecting the AM computers and the printers connected to them," the report says.

"For example, in 2019, Microsoft issued over 197 operating system updates to fix security vulnerabilities, one of which fixed a vulnerability that allowed attackers to gain unauthorized access to a single computer and then use that access to log into other computers."

San Diego county sites cited in the audit report included the Naval Special Warfare Command, Marine Corps Corps Forces Special Operations Command, Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific, and the Navy's Fleet Readiness Center Southwest on North Island.

An extensively redacted memo from the Navy Fleet Readiness Center's commanding officer to the Inspector General's office concurred with the largely secret set of auditor's recommendations, outlining a series of redacted remedial actions taken in response "expected to be complete by November 1, 2021."

A similar memo was sent by the Commander of the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific, giving a final compliance date of July 30.

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Cpl. Jaden Murry getting new teeth
Cpl. Jaden Murry getting new teeth

San Diego Navy labs and bases that employ so-called 3D printing technology – used to churn out everything from aircraft parts to teeth – are at high risk of hacker attacks, says a heavily redacted July 1 cybersecurity audit report by the Pentagon's Office of Inspector General.

The military uses 3D printing, technically called Additive Manufacturing, to make "molds for personal protection body armor, parts for tactical vehicles, brackets for weapons systems, and medical brackets for weapons systems," the audit says.

In addition, the process produces medical implants and artificial body implants and prostheses, including a publicized San Diego Naval Hospital procedure during which a Twenty-Nine Palms-based Marine got a set of 3D-printed teeth following surgery for a tumor in his lower jaw.

Also making news here earlier this year was a 3D printing-related patent granted to the Naval Information Warfare Center here in March for an invention called "Smart Parts: Embedded Sensors for Use in Additive Manufactured Parts."

"The [Defense Department] also uses AM to create spare parts on demand, which reduces the need to store or maintain large on hand inventories, allowing units to relocate quickly if mission requirements change," according to the audit report.

The practice has become so successful that the military is trying to license its 3D technology to private players.

"TechLink, the Department of Defense's national partnership intermediary for technology transfer, provides no-cost guidance to companies evaluating Navy inventions for commercialization, helping prepare their license applications and navigating the process," notes TechLink's sponsored website.

But this summer's Pentagon audit warns that data leaks due to sloppy security could become widespread, risking national security. And so far, the military's progress in locking down sensitive 3D printing secrets has been less than adequate, the report says.

"The compromise of AM design data could allow an adversary to re-create and use [military] technology to the adversary's advantage on the battlefield.

"In addition, if malicious actors change the AM design data, the changes could affect the end strength and utility of the 3D-printed products."

Even mundane security chores have been neglected, according to the audit, opening the door to cascading vulnerabilities. "The need to update operating systems is critical to protecting the AM computers and the printers connected to them," the report says.

"For example, in 2019, Microsoft issued over 197 operating system updates to fix security vulnerabilities, one of which fixed a vulnerability that allowed attackers to gain unauthorized access to a single computer and then use that access to log into other computers."

San Diego county sites cited in the audit report included the Naval Special Warfare Command, Marine Corps Corps Forces Special Operations Command, Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific, and the Navy's Fleet Readiness Center Southwest on North Island.

An extensively redacted memo from the Navy Fleet Readiness Center's commanding officer to the Inspector General's office concurred with the largely secret set of auditor's recommendations, outlining a series of redacted remedial actions taken in response "expected to be complete by November 1, 2021."

A similar memo was sent by the Commander of the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific, giving a final compliance date of July 30.

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