4 Ways to Protect Your Network with Printer Security

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“I’ve got my network protected! My firewall is tight. My wireless is locked down. I’ve got antivirus and antimalware dialed in. I. AM. SET!” 

Great! What about your printers? 

“Wait! What about my printers? A printer’s a printer, right? How does that affect my network security? 

One of the most overlooked areas of business security is network printer security. We pay attention to firewalls, antivirus and antimalware. We encrypt file servers and require passwords to access databases and individual files. We even encrypt our workstations.

But printers… not so much.

Is network printer security really a thing?

Companies have been maintaining tight control of physically printed documents for as long as there have been printers. That’s important and necessary, but many companies don’t realize that they may be wide open to attack because of poor network printer security measures.

If you’re like I was at first, you might think there’s not a lot that could go wrong with printing other than paper jams or forgetting how to replace ink cartridges, but network printers are just as vulnerable to malware and hackers as PCs.

According to InfoTrends, there are almost 30 million printers and multifunction devices in offices and homes throughout the U.S. and Western Europe that are connected to a network. If malware is installed on a printer, hackers can do all sorts of nasty things. Some examples:

  • Get access to confidential or sensitive information
  • Launch denial-of service (DoS)  attacks
  • Access saved copies of documents
  • Send unauthorized print jobs

According to HP, in a survey of 300 IT and security pros, just 16 percent of respondents think that printers are at high risk for a security breach. Yet there are hundreds of millions of business printers in the world and less than 2 percent of them are secure. Yikes!

It’s not too late to implement network printer security measures. Here are four things you can do to protect your printers and your business from attacks.

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1. Assess what is networked

Do all printers need to be connected to your network or only certain ones? Having an unsecured printer connected to your network is like an unlocked back door to your business. One thing you can do, at least until you get proper security measures in place, is unplug from your network. If there is no physical or wireless connection, hackers can’t compromise your network.

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2. Pay attention to the basics

Since most networked printers can be accessed remotely with a password, the simplest thing you can do to secure a printer is to change the default password when you set it up. If you haven’t done this – stop reading now, get up, and GO CHANGE IT! And throw in a few unexpected characters to make it more difficult to break. You may thank me later.

You also want to keep the printer firmware updated. Printer manufacturers send out firmware updates as new threats are uncovered so check for them regularly and then USE ‘EM! If you’re as easily distracted as I am (Look! Squirrel!), set up a recurring reminder on your calendar. It’s not difficult to do and it’s another layer of protection.

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3. Use encryption

If you’re printing any sensitive information – employee files, confidential company information, or customer invoices – don’t trust that sort of data to an unencrypted network!

When you send a print job over a secured network using encryption, your information will be converted into undecipherable code to hackers. It just makes sense to use encryption so the print job can’t be intercepted, or at least interpreted, on its way to the printer.

Many multifunction printers, copiers and scanners also have hard drives that store the documents, faxes, images, etc. that are going to be, or have been printed. Make sure those drives are also encrypted so that if you are attacked that information is not compromised either.

When you retire a printer, make sure you wipe the drives. In 2010, Affinity Health Plan, a managed care plan company in New York State, returned multiple photocopiers to their leasing agent without wiping the information on the drives. Confidential data for almost 350,000 individuals was found on the drives. That HIPAA violation cost them 1.2 million dollars. Ouch!

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4. Purchase secure printers

Okay, I don’t mean to be a shill for any particular printer company, but HP really seems to be an innovator in the secure printer arena.

Their enterprise printing devices offer unique technologies designed to thwart attackers’ efforts and then fix themselves. These features automatically trigger a reboot any time they detect an attack or other anomaly.

Every time the printer is started, HP Sure Start checks the integrity of the BIOS code and defaults to a safe copy if it is compromised. It then checks the firmware to be sure it is a known code digitally signed by HP. If not, it reboots. Then it checks the security settings and fixes them if needed. Finally, it monitors the printing process in real time and reboots if it detects an attack. Pretty cool stuff.

Other printer manufacturers have network printer security features as well. Take advantage of them. Keep yourself secure!

Who knew printers could be so dangerous? 

Who knew that just a lowly printer could leave a company vulnerable to malicious attacks? Now you do! But in case this doesn’t scare you enough, check out this short film by HP featuring Christian Slater. It shows you how a hacker could take down an entire company using just one unsecured printer. Take a look – it’s worth the watch!

Need to beef up printer security?

I hope I didn’t scare you too much, but network printer security is no joke! We can help you replace or secure your printers to make sure hackers can’t get in.

Before you print…
Don Wynia
I’ve been working in the IT industry since the mid-nineties and CCB is a really special place. I appreciate the family atmosphere and management truly cares about the welfare of their employees and clients. I love that we get to help our customers find the right technology solution that meets their budget and empowers them to achieve their goals.

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