3D Printed Keys. Source: Jim Pennucci on flickr.com
3D Printed Keys. Source: Jim Pennucci on flickr.com

With every advent of new technology, there are those who will use it to push the limits of security. 3D printing is no different. Cody Wilson created a 3D printed gun called the Liberator and a Canadian man, going simply by the first name of Matthew, created the first 3D printed rifle called the Grizzly. Students at MIT have 3D printed Primus keys, which have up to this point, have been unduplicatable. The MIT students have recommended companies move away from traditional lock and keys and use computerized locking mechanisms to keep out hackers and thieves.

What does this mean for the rest of us? Guarding our keys has long been something that we all do. Now, however, we will need to guard even images of our keys. Otherwise, determined burglars can take pictures of even high-security keys and 3D print them.

3D printed plastic guns are thus far unregulated and the Grizzly is entirely plastic, defeating metal detectors. The U.S. government had banned printing and sharing the files of the Liberator, but not before thousands of downloads had already occurred. Eventually, the threat of 3D printed guns will need to be addressed with additional gun control. Hopefully, this will be addressed sooner rather than later.

Additional Security and Costs

Businesses may need to rethink building security as 3D printing takes off. Although 3D printing is not quite mainstream, there are those who will simply take a picture, make a 3D design, and send it off to Shapeways to 3D print the physical key, as the MIT students have done. However, computerized locks are expensive, especially for smaller-to-midsized businesses. Perhaps keymakers will create new technology that cannot be 3D printed. Maybe keys will need to have a combination of physical and digital data to unlock a door (such as a combination of a key and key code panel to unlock doors). High-profile and high-targeted banks and companies may want to consider increasing their security measures. The smaller and mid-sized companies may not be at risk yet, but considering security precautions now may save trouble in the future.

Because entirely plastic guns defeat metal detectors, other methods for weapons detection will need to be implemented. Until new technology emerges that can detect plastic weapons, such methods as pat-downs will need to be used. This will slow down the already-slow process at airports and other high-security events and locations and will increase costs. So far, the 3D printed guns are not registered, have no serial numbers, and do not fire patterns that would identify a specific bullet with the gun that has fired it. This means that users of 3D printed guns have virtual anonymity. Currently, 3D printed guns and rifles eventually crack under the pressure of firing. But the Grizzly successfully fired 14 rounds before cracking. This will create additional pressure for law enforcement and the government to attempt to regulate these guns and prevent crimes from guns that are virtually untraceable.

The Future of Security

Both of these problems will cause us to rethink our safety and security. As our technology improves and changes, so too will our ways of protecting our lives and homes. Criminals are always looking for better ways to commit crimes and we have a glimpse of what is to come. We should all be thinking of innovative ways to defeat would-be burglars and criminals using untraceable guns to commit violent crimes. Law enforcement has a new problem on its hands and whatever we as citizens can do to help will greatly aid our society.