Don’t Forget About Printer Security

August 9th, 2016 by admin

Array of 6 white printer icons against backgrounds of various color

There was a time when printers—in your office or home—were considered relatively "simple" office equipment: plug it in, connect it to the local network, and keep the ink fresh, and there wasn't much else to worry about.

But times have changed.

Today's business printers—enterprise-level equipment or smaller, multi-function printer/scanner/copiers—include as much document storage capabilities and sophisticated processing power as any other point on the network, another example of the ever-expanding Internet of Things. But while PCs and laptops are almost constantly under the watchful eye of their individual users, networked printers generally sit by themselves for long stretches of time when there are no "jobs" to print.

For many companies, unsecured printers become the weakest link in their network security chain—and a prime point of entry for hackers.

Malicious Mischief, or Worse

Case in point: This past March, a notorious Internet "troll" targeted over a dozen prominent universities around the U.S., hijacking multiple networked printers to print racist material. Colleges were considered an inviting target because printers are often purchased directly by academic departments with little oversight by campus IT management.

Since around 2000, most business-class imaging products have included their own hard drives—capable of storing every document ever printed or copied. A 2010 investigative report by CBS News revealed that "high mileage" used photocopiers—typically available for a few hundred dollars on the resale market—contained un-encrypted hard drives with a slew of easily retrievable data—account numbers on copied checks, pay stubs with personal info, and other valued commodities for any identity thief.

Practicing Printer Hygiene

We've noticed many new customers who've neglected security on their office printers. Here are a few important areas to keep in mind:

  • Management. Appoint a single person as your printer "administrator"—understanding its functions, instructing others how to operate it, basic maintenance (beyond paper jams or toner changes), and enforcing security policy. Check for stray documents left in the input or output trays at the end of the workday.
  • Protection. Make sure your printers are included in your network firewalls and other security measures.
  • Updates. Unlike computers, manufacturers' firmware updates are rarely downloaded automatically. Check often for the latest online security patches.
  • Authentication. Require users to be present at the printer during every print job, requiring individual passwords, smart badges, or fingerprint scans.
  • Encryption. Encode both network traffic and documents stored on the printer's hard drive.
  • Data Scrubbing. As we've recommended for computers, make sure a printer's internal memory is completely wiped clean at the end of its use life.

For more ideas on safeguarding your printers along with the rest of your network, talk with us.

Posted in: Cyber and Data Security, Hardware and Software,


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