While 3D printing has existed since the 1980s, advances in technology mean that the process now costs just hundreds of pounds rather than hundreds of thousands of pounds. Unfortunately, this puts it within reach of cargo thieves. Indeed, over the past few years, law enforcement and industry professionals have reported the use of technology to steal shipments of everything from food and drink through to electronic products.
By using 3D printing – also known as Additive Manufacturing – criminals are able to create counterfeit security devices within as little as ten minutes, open cargo seals, reproduce and replace seals to hide any signs of tampering and make it difficult to pinpoint the exact time or location of the theft.
Counterfeit cargo seals, security locks and security keys have all been created and used by criminals taking advantage of 3D printing technology.
“Technology that once required an understanding of computer-aided design and expensive and large equipment to fabricate items now costs in the range of hundreds of dollars and doesn’t require the same knowledge levels as before,” said Robert Dodge, senior vice-president at G4S Corporate Risk Services.
“Indeed, for a few hundred dollars, an individual can purchase a 3D scanner to produce a near-perfect replica, but criminals don’t even need to purchase their own 3D printers. They can easily send the specifications or pictures to any number of 3D printing companies or individuals around the world without any questions being asked.”
To help combat the growing threat of criminals using this technology, G4S has been reaching out to its supply chain security clients and G4S employees who provide supply chain security-related services, including security officers at gates and loading docks.
“US Customs and Border Protection has commented favourably on the fact that we’re sharing details of this emerging threat with the business community,” added Dodge.
Steps towards mitigating the risks
There are steps that clients can take to lessen the risk of being targeted. Simple things like changing the design, colour and markings on security seals make life difficult for criminals, but ultimately any measure can be replicated by a determined criminal. Even using metal is no guarantee that seals will be impossible to copy, as the more advanced 3D printers can employ metal alloys to fabricate products.
Ultimately, Dodge noted: “As almost all seals come from third parties, new seal designs would be available online within weeks, and could then be copied and distributed.”
Measures designed to keep cargo safe:
*Conduct a professional, third party security assessment of any company used for the shipment of goods
*Carry out thorough background checks on shipping company employees
*Analyse shipping methods to identify alternative routes and delivery times in order to avoid predictability
*Avoid placing company logos on company-owned cargo containers
*Place GPS devices in random shipments
*Install motion-activated, Internet-based surveillance cameras inside random containers in order to capture footage of doors being opened
*Alternate the colour of seals and periodically change seals to make it harder to produce replicas