There’s always speculation about how crime can take place by leveraging technical aspects of 3D printing, but I believe the most crimes are of a more simple nature.
A lot of speculation on 3D printed involves theft of intellectual property: if you lose control over the digital copy of your 3D model, you essentially lose the object. A criminal might obtain the 3D model through any number of means, including straight-up physical data theft, tapping into an unsecured file transmission, reverse engineering GCODE or even, laughably, listening to a 3D printer’s stepper motors to trace the extruder movements.
No, I believe the most money obtained through illegal – or unethical – approaches is not due to any technical activity.
Instead I believe it’s through unwise investments in 3D printer companies.
Having observed many 3D printing companies over the past nine years, it is clear that not all of them are ethical, and some are downright criminal. The investment angle comes in several forms:
Crowdfunding: Oh, where do I start? While there are many viable 3D print product launches on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, there are some that are clearly not heading to success. At a glance, some can appear unable to deliver what they promise. If they’re know this themselves and still collect money from investors, well, that’s not so good.
There are some variations on this scenario, such as the Peachy Printer situation, where an employee of the very small firm ran off with the bulk of the funds raised, or others where “instant replicants” of more well-known campaigns suddenly appear and gather money before quickly shutting down without delivering anything.
Private Investment: As in crowdfunding, there are also 3D print ventures with clearly impossible missions to achieve success. One from the past was BotObjects, a suspicious venture claiming to have developed a full color 3D printer. Many in the industry did not believe this was technically possible, yet someone this company attracted investment from private individuals and firms.
Public Investment: Finally, it is possible for public firms to obtain investment in unethical ways. One possibility for this is told in the class action lawsuit by investors in 3D Systems, whose stock price rose dramatically through a series of product announcements – some of which didn’t amount to anything. The investors felt they were misled by company announcements when the stock price eventually faltered.
Should we be more worried about crime of a technical form or someone simply taking your cash? I think it’s the latter.