Secure Printer

Today's multifunction printers are on-ramp to the Internet. That means Joe's printer needs a variety of extra security measures.

Once he's passed into the office itself (using his prox card), Joe will need to make copies of his progress report for an upcoming meeting. He'll use his multifunction, networked printer with image-overwrite capabilities and secure print features that won't print out the document until he is standing at the printer.

Today's multifunction printers are becoming an on-ramp to and an off-ramp from the Internet. Now MFPs are about as powerful from a computing and interface standpoint as a PC. They have the ability to capture, digitize, route, file and store information that can be printed or retrieved and reviewed from the other end. Manufacturers Canon, HP, Kyocera, Sharp and Xerox (to name just a few) offer multifunction printers with features to address the attendant security concerns.

The days of the monstrous centralized printer in the glass-enclosed room are all but gone. Workers want proximity and speed with their printing devices. The computing power of MFPs also raises security concerns. "Paper is probably one of the least-secure things in the office today. It's out in the open and not under password protection. Unsecure printers and MFPs can contribute to [security breaches], too," says Robin Wessel, director of product marketing for desktop for Xerox's Office Group. Scanned documents or faxed data can remain in the system's stored memory. Networked MFPs or those connected to the Internet run some risk of hacker attacks.

Image-overwrite capabilities electronically shred information stored on the hard disk of devices as part of routine job processing. Xerox uses Department of Defense-level algorithms to completely erase scanned images from the device's memory. It also offers a Secure Print feature that assigns a PIN to print projects, so sensitive documents won't sit at the printer location and lie vulnerable to prying eyes. Instead, the job waits in a queue until the employee reaches the printer location and enters the PIN. Xerox also offers encryption as a standard feature on its larger MFPs to protect data while it's being used. A baseline product with those built-in features, such as Xerox's Phaser 3635MFP, starts at $2,199.

Xerox has achieved Common Criteria Certification for a number of its multifunction devices. Common Criteria is an internationally recognized standard for product security claims.

HP's Indigo printer (usually reserved for professional printing businesses) uses ElectroInk liquid ink technology that can accept and print variable data, which can be serial numbers, names and other personalized identifiers. It can also print in invisible ink that can be read only under an ultraviolet lamp. In addition, Indigo can create secret alphanumeric codes to scramble your printout. The letters or digits are converted systematically into a sequence that can be checked by using a specific key or by referring to the printer's code system.

The technology also allows "micro text," printing so small that it is nearly unseen by the untrained eye. Watermarks can also be added to printed documents to ensure authenticity. Some vendors offer companies a removable hard drive that allows administrators to physically remove the hard drive each night and lock it away. (See the filing cabinet in Joe's office.)

Joe might spend $300,000 to $1 million for his next printer upgrade, depending on the model he selects.

-Stacy Collett

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