Risks of Unsecured Printers

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Printer security is a big deal. Whether you’re a home user with one multifunction printer or a Fortune 500 corporation with an entire army of them scattered about, failing to take adequate security measures could cost you greatly. While most people only envision wasted ink and paper as the gravest danger they could face, the risks inherent in poor printer security are far greater and could lead to heavily damaging information breaches.

Increased Supply and Maintenance Costs

The most basic security risk of a wireless printer left to function without adequate controls is its unauthorized use. Failing to encrypt print jobs as they travel across your network to your printer could allow a deft cybercriminal unchecked access to its physical functions. In this scenario, a hacker could wreak havoc by jamming the system with numerous fake print jobs and even making changes to internal settings. As a result, you might find yourself unable to access your printers and racking up untold dollars in used paper and spent ink cartridges – or worse, as Fortune recently reported following one rogue hacker’s “mass printer trolling.” Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg with respect to printer security risks. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg with respect to printer security risks.

Unauthorized Access to Sensitive Information

Because most multifunction printers are capable of storing printed data electronically, neglecting to employ strict security measures can lead to a vast array of threats. Print jobs stored to the printer’s cache could make it possible for hackers to gain access to sensitive personal or business information, including — but certainly not limited to — Social Security numbers, financial information, or internal memos and documents that could be used by a company’s competition. Public release of stolen documents can also cause serious harm to a company’s reputation.

To guard against this, it’s critical to clear out all saved print jobs from the device’s internal memory on a routine basis, and to ensure you own a printer with an encrypted internal hard drive.

Network Vulnerability Concerns

Unsecured wireless printers can lead to full network vulnerability. With a single unsecured printer, you could be leaving your entire network of connected devices vulnerable to malicious attack through an invisible “back door.” At very least, neglecting to take full security precautions on a wireless printer could give cybercriminals the ability to spy on your networked devices. Ultimately, this could compromise the security of your whole network by creating a route of access to any connected computers.

Taking the Appropriate Steps

There are a number of things that can be done to mitigate all of the above printer security risks. Your first step should be to ensure the printer or printers you have connected to your wireless network are equipped with up to date security features. If not, consider replacing them with newer models that take into account the various risks posed by hackers and other criminals with ill intent — as well as the inadvertent risks that are often posed unknowingly through human error and honest oversight.

As a rule, always keep your firmware up to date. This includes downloading any suggested drivers and patches the printer manufacturer recommends. To be kept up to date on patches and new drivers, register your printer with the manufacturer. If you don’t like being pestered by frequent update notifications, turn on your printer’s automatic update, if your printer comes equipped with this feature. This ensures any security gaps are addressed as soon as a fix is made available, limiting your exposure to wireless printer security risks.

If your existing printer setup does have adequate security features to shore up network vulnerability, ensure that you are utilizing all included safeguards including access passwords or PINs so that only authorized personnel can gain access.

Always use encrypted connections to send print jobs to your printer. Bonus tips include assigning a new name to your wireless network that differs from the stock name, changing passwords frequently, and buying a printer that has an encrypted hard drive.

Last but not least, the most effective method of keeping your network safe from hacking-via-printer is to employ the use of a direct, hardwired connection from your computer. This may not be possible in an enterprise environment, where numerous workstations are connected to a single printer or numerous printers, but it can be an effective means of combating the ill effects of hacking in your home or private office. If you operate an office environment with numerous employees accessing your printers, consider training your personnel on the need for a strong understanding of printer security and enforce this just as you would enforce any other workplace security risk.


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