PrintNightmare: Securing Your Print Infrastructure

Introduction

Since 2021, the “PrintNightmare” issue has become a topic of concern. This class of vulnerabilities affects Windows-based devices, including servers, desktops, and laptops. The vulnerabilities are found in the print spooler service, which is enabled by default and responsible for managing printers and printing documents. This article aims to explore the PrintNightmare problem, its implications, and long-term solutions to secure your print infrastructure.

The Print Nightmare Story

Understanding the Problem

In June of 2021, a vulnerability in Microsoft’s print spooler software, known as CVE-2021-34527 or “PrintNightmare,” was identified. This vulnerability allows remote network access to exploit the system, gaining privileged access rights and executing malicious code. It poses a significant risk as attackers can remotely control the affected system, potentially stealing sensitive data or disrupting operations.

Print Spooler Service: A Brief Overview

The print spooler service is responsible for managing printer connections and operations on Windows-based devices. It facilitates communication between the device and printers, ensuring compatibility by downloading and installing the required printer drivers. Additionally, it handles print jobs by organizing queues, prioritizing tasks, and buffering data into the printer’s memory.

Domain controllers also utilize the print spooler service for managing printers on a network. However, this introduces a security vulnerability, as any authenticated user can remotely connect to the print spooler service of a domain controller, compromising network security controls.

The print spooler service also allows Windows devices to act as print clients or print servers. While this ease of use is convenient, it grants privileged access to the print spooler service across the entire network, bypassing security controls and automatically updating printer drivers.

The Risk with PrintNightmare

The PrintNightmare vulnerability enables attackers external to the network to upload malicious code disguised as a Dynamic-link Library (DLL). This code can be executed with administrator privileges across the network, providing an entry point for further attacks and potential data exfiltration. The presence of proof-of-concept code circulating in the hacker community further exacerbates this risk.

Continuing Challenges

Although efforts have been made to patch the PrintNightmare vulnerability, new flaws in the Windows print spooler service continue to be identified. These vulnerabilities, such as CVE-2021-34481, pose critical risks, including local privilege escalation and potential Remote Code Execution (RCE) exploits. To mitigate these risks, it is recommended to temporarily stop and disable the print spooler service until all security patches are applied.

Long-Term Protective Measures Against PrintNightmare

Option 1: Patching and Praying

Keeping up with security patches for printer spooler service vulnerabilities provides a level of protection. However, the existence of well-resourced hackers who exploit vulnerabilities before patches are released poses a significant risk. Organizations must consider the potential consequences of falling victim to attacks targeting their intellectual property or sensitive information.

Option 2: Moving Print Services to a Secure Cloud-Based Solution

To effectively address the vulnerabilities introduced by Windows-based print servers, a long-term solution should eliminate the inherent weaknesses. Migrating print services to a secure cloud-based print management solution offers several advantages:

  1. Elimination of Printer Driver Management: Legacy communication protocols used by printer drivers often introduce security vulnerabilities. A cloud-based solution that eliminates the reliance on manufacturer drivers ensures secure connectivity by default.
  2. Improved Security Controls: By using a cloud-based service, the need for network-wide access and exceptions for print services is eliminated. This simplifies configuration and enhances overall security.
  3. Mitigation of Legacy Protocol Risks: Older operating systems rely on legacy print protocols that can be exploited. Cloud-based secure printing solutions enforce secure protocols, minimizing the risks associated with legacy support.
  4. Isolation of Print Functions: Dedicated print servers separate print functions from multi-use servers, reducing vulnerabilities and potential misconfigurations.
  5. Enhanced Encryption: Cloud-based secure printing solutions encrypt all print file transmission and storage, protecting against eavesdropping and unauthorized access.

Pharos Cloud: A Secure Solution

Pharos Cloud offers a serverless printing infrastructure that ensures secure and direct-to-printer workflows for businesses. By replacing Windows-based print servers with Pharos Cloud’s cloud-based print management solution, organizations can eliminate print spooler services, printer drivers, and associated vulnerabilities.

The benefits of adopting Pharos Cloud include:

  1. Reduced Attack Surface: Centralized cloud print management minimizes security risks by eliminating the need for print spooler services on every Windows-based device, including domain controllers.
  2. Simplified Security Configuration: Security software no longer needs to include print services in allow lists and exceptions, closing potential security holes.
  3. Robust Encryption: Pharos Cloud employs strong encryption algorithms to protect print job communications and data at rest, ensuring maximum security.
  4. Compatibility and Ease of Use: Pharos Cloud seamlessly integrates with existing infrastructure and does not require workstation or printer fleet upgrades. It simplifies administration tasks and improves the overall printing experience.

By adopting Pharos Cloud’s cloud-based serverless secure printing service, organizations can mitigate the risks associated with the PrintNightmare vulnerability and future vulnerabilities yet to be discovered. This solution offers compatibility, enhanced security, and reduced administrative workload, ensuring a win-win situation for businesses while thwarting potential hackers.

Conclusion

Securing your print infrastructure is crucial in the face of vulnerabilities like PrintNightmare. Organizations must consider long-term solutions that address the weaknesses of Windows-based print servers. Migrating to a cloud-based print management solution, such as Pharos Cloud, offers enhanced security, reduced attack surfaces, simplified administration, and robust encryption. By proactively adopting these measures, businesses can wake up from the PrintNightmare without sacrificing their printing capabilities and ensure a more secure future.

Optimize Print with Pharos

Learn more about how to simplify print security, increase IT productivity, and cut waste with Pharos Cloud. Schedule a meeting with us today.

Request More Information
Screenshots of Pharos Cloud on mobile and desktop devices.
Contact Demo