Printers and multifunction devices (MFDs) are the workhorses of the modern office environment. They handle a large amount of company information on a daily basis, some of it confidential, and, they often have unrestricted network access. This unique position in the infrastructure of the IT system and the rapid evolution of multifunction printers has swiftly brought them to the forefront of the cyber-security industry.
Recent years have seen an increase in cyberattacks using networked printers as a way in to even the most secure IT systems. Any unauthorised access to the network or access to sensitive information processed by the printer has the potential to have a significant negative impact on the business.
Are Printers A Security Risk?
Printers, copiers, and multifunction devices are one of the most commonly overlooked security weaknesses in today’s business cyber-security strategies. Having previously relatively kept under the radar because of their limited capabilities, these newer, more sophisticated devices of today hold their own in the high-tech world of office computing, requiring just as much scrutiny when addressing the genuine threat of cyber-attacks.
How Are Printers Used In Cyber-Attacks?
Printers are often used as entry points or jump starters to accessing the wider network. Skilled hackers are able to allow the printer to function as normal while continuing to use the machine as back-door access for malware activities or to gain access to more sensitive information stored or sent over the internal network.
Unintentional third party access has also become something of an issue more recently particularly with the increase of flexible work environments. More easily accessible mobile or personal devices granted access to office printers can represent a weak point in the existing IT security system. These devices are often not subject to the more strict security policies of the traditional office device and, are sometimes not as secure, posing as a potential opening for printer based cyber-attacks.
Can A Printer Be Hacked?
As the security levels for other areas within the traditional IT system have seen an increase in security features and integrated more stringent security measures, hackers and cybercriminals are always looking for other ways to infiltrate business networks – and, yes, printers can represent a very vulnerable target. Some of the ways your printer could be used against you are:
- Unauthorised Network Access. Networked printers are the most susceptible as they are linked to any number of computers, servers and devices within the company, all of which store sensitive company data. Printers can be used as a relatively unsecure entry point to your network for the introduction of viruses, denial-of-service (DOS) attacks and more.
- Access To Stored Documents. Printers with inbuilt memory or hard drives naturally have the ability to store the documents that have been sent to them to be printed even after they are switched off. These confidential documents could be then be accessed in digital form from the printer’s hard drive and reproduced outside of the security of the office environment.
- Interception And/Or Control. Common printer functionality may include the ability to connect directly to the web or embedded web servers enabling remote access via a website. If not properly secured unauthorised access could be gained from a remote location anywhere around the world with the hacker even able to take over control of your printer which includes the introduction of Malware and unauthorised print jobs.
Implications Of A Data Breach
What would the invasion of Malware or a data breach cost your business? According to the 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report published by the Ponemon Institute and IBM, a data breach can cost companies an average of USD 3.86 million in 2020! Four of the specific implications of a data breach are;
- Decline In Customers. A significant data breach can cause customers to lose confidence in your brand and reputation, resulting in a substantial reduction in customer numbers impacting current and future revenue.
- Compliance Costs. It is the responsibility of every business to keep people’s personal data safe and secure. According to the New Zealand Privacy Act, failure to comply with the privacy laws can lead to substantial fines, the Privacy Commissioner outlines the appropriate procedures for responding to a privacy breach.
- Legal Costs. Data breaches can sometimes lead to legal action on behalf of the people whose information was shared or from affected businesses.
- Confidential Company Information. It’s not just the information of your clients or customers you have to be concerned with, any of your business information that is accessed (bank accounts, payroll, employee data etc.) can also cause an ongoing financial burden.
How Do I Make My Default Printer Secure?
Keeping the printing environment secure should be up there with your computer network and companywide wireless security. Regardless of what brand of printer or multifunction device you own, there are things you can do to make them safer.
This means more than just updating the access pin code, or having addressed network security when the printer was installed a couple of years ago – like all security companywide it is necessary to continually reassess and tweak the process to keep up with recent developments.
Network Printer Security Basics
How do you know if your network printer is protected? All newer multifunction printers will come with their own internal security functionality – your job is to make sure it is implemented to the highest of standards; however here are 8 ways to increase security around your printers. Please check with your product supplier’s service support before carrying these functions.
- Change. The number one thing you can do is to change your printer password or pin on a regular basis. Never leave it set at the defaults provided with the machine and always change the password frequently, especially if guest users are a common occurrence.
- Update. Always keep your firmware on every machine up to date. Manufacturers will quite frequently supply authenticated operating system updates often in response to new cyber-threats so always keep up with your updates!
- Encrypt. Using encryption processes for traffic both for the protection of print jobs and storage of documents within the printer itself is always a good idea if possible. Authentication of traffic is also great.
- Authenticate. It can be a good idea to restrict access to users with legitimate printing needs for each machine and also to review printer logs periodically to keep track of who is doing what and when keeping an eye out for any anomalies.
- Disable. Disabling any unused functionality or services that you don’t use on your printer is also a good way to reduce the potential pathways for an attack (mainly web-based services).
- Contain. As part of your cybersecurity measures, printers should also be covered by companywide firewalls and network security protocols, particularly over wireless networks.
- Manage. Whether you have 4 printers or 40, allocating someone the job of keeping passwords updated, monitoring logs, updating firmware and restricting access is an essential step to managing printer security. There should always be a clear security policy that ensures all devices are fully secured.
- Wipe. Always remember to erase hard drives of old printers, copiers and multifunction devices before recycling or discarding them. Anything previously connected to your network needs to be wiped entirely.
What To Look For When Buying A New Printer
When buying new, it’s important to look for security-focused printers. Most of the major printer manufacturers and resellers in NZ now have in-built security features.
HP, for example, are industry leaders when it comes to inbuilt security for all-in-one printers for the office. Their ‘HP Enterprise’ series of printers are built with an internal secure managed print services – the HP JetAdvantage Security Manager system that can detect and self-heal from Malware attacks, detect run-time intrusion, automatically check for authentic firmware, and much more!
The printer essentially self-manages its security settings by running through a series of data checks at each phase of the printing process. If anything out of the ordinary is detected, the printer launches itself into a “healing reboot” that resets and fixes any altered security settings.
While many of the most common types of cyberattacks can be hindered by implementing our tips on the basics in printer security, it’s always best to talk to a professional when seeking advice about securing printers on your network and vulnerability to cyberattacks.