It seems a month rarely goes by that the news of a massive data breach doesn’t makes headlines. The occurrences seem so commonplace that they’ve long outgrown their shock value. If it sounds to you as if these incidents are occurring at a growing rate, you aren’t wrong. One of the most frequently overlooked risks in both the commercial and consumer world is printer security. It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that HP is now offering secure printing services aimed at staving off malicious external threats that can gain entry to your company through an unsecured wireless printer.
What Is Printer Security?
Today’s multifunction printers differ greatly from the printers of yesterday. Now capable of being accessed wirelessly through a commercial or home network, multifunction printers offer unparalleled convenience through their incorporation of print, scan, copy and fax capabilities. The downside of this convenience is their susceptibility to viruses and hacking by outside forces, which results from both the printer’s ability to store data on its internal drive and the fact it is connected to your company’s network.
Because printers have been historically viewed and treated as external components that perform a single function, they’re all too often left out of the wireless security loop – leaving a gaping hole in an otherwise tightly secured information network.
What Kind of Risk Does an Unsecured Printer Pose?
The most obvious risk that an unsecured printer poses is allowing unauthorized individuals to access documents that have either already been printed, or documents that are being sent through a wireless connection to be printed. If these documents contain sensitive information like bank account information or Social Security Numbers, the damages to individuals and corporations can be severe.
Additional risks of unsecured printers include the ability of hackers to launch denial-of-service attacks that could cripple a user’s ability to make use of it. Some hackers have even been known to jam up printers with forged print jobs that create crippling bottlenecks, halting all printer-related productivity.
But even more threatening is the possibility that a hacker could send your company malicious files through an unsecured wireless printer like a “back door.”
What Can Be Done to Tighten Wireless Printer Security?
There are a number of things that individuals and companies can do to ensure their wireless printers aren’t providing an avenue for hackers to create havoc, perpetrate identity fraud, or obtain sensitive information. Protecting internal Wi-Fi connections with WPA2 encryption is one of the most critical steps to take. Enabling manufacturer security patches to download to printers automatically is another.
Most wireless printers that store data after a print job has been completed can also be set to erase that data just as soon as it’s no longer needed. If you prefer that your printer retains printed data for any period of time, the stored data should be encrypted to prevent anyone from accessing it before it’s had an opportunity to be purged from the device’s memory banks. Also, a printer’s internal memory can be disabled, preventing it from storing data. This is the most effective method of keeping printed information out of the hands of unauthorized individuals. Because they may no longer receive manufacturer support, older printers should be replaced with newer models that include updated security features.
Other tips to keep the content sent to your printers secure is disabling physical ports, placing printers in a secured area, and requiring the use of passwords or PIN codes for employees to use a printer.
Even the most tightly controlled and guarded information network can be compromised. Adding printer security to the mix is just another method of preventing outsiders from gaining access to your personal or business information. Whether you’re in the market for a wireless printer or are simply seeking ways to tighten down the security in your existing array, pay attention to the included security features and commit to employing them to your benefit.