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Cozying up to the Lonely Network Printer

All too often it’s left unattended, unmonitored, and even outside the scope of established security policies and processes.

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Look around you for the nearest printer. Other than feeding it paper and ink, or clearing jams, do you know who has responsibility for it, such as making sure it’s secure? Oftentimes, nobody has a clue whose responsibility it is. And that’s just the type of opportunity that unauthorized users and hackers are looking for.

A survey by IDC found that more than half of companies had experienced an IT security breach involving printers during the 12 months prior to the survey.

“This vulnerability can come from malicious attacks from inside or outside the organization as well as careless usage of printing devices and output,” IDC warns. “Potential print-related security breaches could occur from network ports, print/copy/scan job interception, print/MFP hard drives and memory (RAM), printed or copied documents left in output trays, illegal use of secure media (checks, prescriptions), and so forth.”

That’s a broad array of vulnerabilities, but all too often that printer is left unattended, unmonitored, and even outside the scope of established security policies and processes.

Data loss through printing

Research firm Quocirca says that, based on a survey it conducted, “Data loss through printing is prevalent, even among organizations that operate a managed print service. Overall 61% reported at least one data loss in the past year, 51% in organizations with more than 3,000 employees and 68% in organizations with 1,000 - 3,000 employees.”

Quocirca concluded that those not using managed print services likely have an even higher proportion of breaches. “In fact, in many cases organizations may not be aware of all data loss incidents, meaning that potential data loss could be even higher than what is reported.”

The consequences of any networked device being compromised are far reaching, Quocirca warns, adding that “a data breach can leave a company open to huge fines and legal penalties, and damage its reputation and customer confidence.”

The problem may be that security professionals are simply unaccustomed to viewing the network printer as an intelligent endpoint. “Printer security is an overlooked security risk,” the Ponemon Institute concluded as a result of its survey.

“Only 44% of respondents say their organizations’ security policy includes the security of network-connected printers,” Ponemon stated. Not only that, but 62% of those surveyed “are pessimistic about their ability to prevent the loss of data contained in printer memory and/or printed hardcopy documents.”

Potential to wreak havoc

Given the huge risks of compliance violations, compromised customer data, and theft of intellectual property, shareholders and consumers would likely be shocked at the lack of attention to printer security.

“Hackers can use vulnerabilities to capture old printer logs, which may contain sensitive information,” warns Dark Reading. “They may also use these flaws to establish their foothold in a networked device and move laterally throughout the organization to gather data.

Some attackers want to wreak havoc outside a single business.”

Not only that, but a cybercriminal could commandeer those network resources for DDoS attacks on others, the report says.

Ed Wingate, vice president and general manager of JetAdvantage Solutions at HP, told Dark Reading that because printers are shared devices, it's often unclear whether they belong to IT, facilities, or the team responsible for purchasing them.

“This leads to ambiguity over who should control the security of each device,” Wingate says.

HP’s Secure Managed Print Services helps ensure that corporate print environments are protected from cyber attacks with solutions including:

  • Remote Management Services, reducing the time burden and costs for IT departments to manage critically important security controls.
  • HP Print Security Governance & Compliance Service, where HP trained experts can monitor the print fleet for potential issues.
  • HP Print Security Implementation Service, where HP technical support will deploy print security plans.
  • HP Print Security Retainer Service, which provides on-going access to HP credentialed security advisors who evaluate security plans on a regular basis.

How The Wolf infiltrates a company

To raise awareness about the security challenges posed by printers, and to highlight the ease with which skillful cybercriminals can hack corporate networks, HP recently introduced a series of videos. In “The Wolf,” actor Christian Slater systematically infiltrates companies entirely through vulnerabilities in unprotected printers and PCs.

Starting in the mailroom and moving up to the executive boardroom, The Wolf breaches one fictional company’s most sensitive data via an abandoned printout, the printer interface, and even an innocently downloaded gift certificate.

The good news is that organizations can readily take advantage of best practices and technology tools to ensure their printer assets aren’t susceptible to breaches. That can be as simple as ensuring no printer is left unattended, or as sophisticated as intrusion detection and prevention technology incorporated into the latest HP printers.

Utilizing “pull printing” technology, for instance, organizations can require workers to utilize PIN codes or smart cards to complete a print operation, ensuring that they’re present to collect the printouts, rather than leaving them in output trays. Organizations can gain control over their printer environment by implementing services that monitor, allocate, and manage resources by tracking usage by device, user, project, department, or cost center.

HP also provides enterprise printers capable of detecting malware and preventing its execution. These devices can self-heal a device BIOS to make certain the bad code is erased and ensure only authentic HP code is loaded into memory. Other security measures ensure that print jobs are encrypted while being transmitted over the network, or when stored in a printer’s onboard memory.

In short, there are many options available, but more than anything, secure printing starts with awareness. If you haven’t thought about printer security recently, that’s a good indication it’s not fully encompassed within your defense strategies.

For more insight into printer security issues, and information on technologies and practices that can protect your organization, go to HP Printer Security.

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.