Printers Must Be Part of a Strong Security Policy

You may have heard about the recent hack that resulted in the printing of racist fliers at several U.S. universities. This event is appropriately turning attention to an often overlooked area of vulnerability. You might not think of printers and multi-function devices as a high-risk security target, but as experts in the print industry, we know the threat is larger than many people think. Printers today are network computers that should receive the same level of security consideration as the traditional computers on your network.

Many printers ship “open,” which means they are designed to be plug-and-play for easy deployment. They are configured by default to listen on every port and support many protocols. This makes them easy to integrate into a network but it’s not a strong security practice.

It’s critical that you lock down all of your network printers. Start with changing their default admin password. Configure and use each device’s built-in firewall, when available. Shut down any protocols you don’t need. Create an access control list and create a schedule for updating the device firmware (device manufacturers will often issue patches for any discovered vulnerabilities; be sure install these when they become available).

Even after a device is secured, it’s important to remember that a factory reset returns the device to its open state. These factory resets often occur after a major service event. Every organization should review their security policy with regard to their device fleet and printer configuration. Creating and maintaining such a policy across the organization will make it easier to enforce standard configurations across the fleet from the time of deployment all the way to decommission.

Implement secure pull printing technology

In addition to securing your network print devices, you also need to secure your printed information to protect confidentiality and intellectual property.

man hand hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier . Security system concept.

In a secure printing environment, employees print to a secure network queue and then use their access card or login credentials to release (“pull”) their documents at any network printer. The old way is to allow employees to print directly to a specific printer for immediate output, but this introduces a lot of risk and waste.

If you have seen “confidential” documents left unattended near a shared printer at work, you know what I’m talking about. There’s too much at stake to allow documents to be printed and then forgotten: Secure your office printing.

Leverage industry standards

Leverage industry standards for protocols and best practices to gain an understanding of the evolving security landscape. Organizations like PCIHIPAAOWASP, and NIST provide a lot of resources to help you understand and implement security best practices throughout your organization. And it’s not enough to just follow these guidelines like a list of chores; your entire organization must embrace them and make security part of its mindset.

Review your security policy

It’s important to review your network security. In our work with customers, we too often find that thousands of printers are unknowingly visible from the internet because of inadequate network security. This oversight is what made the aforementioned hack at several U.S. universities possible. You can use the Shodan search engine or similar online security tools to identify vulnerable network devices across your organization.

As your organization continually refines its security strategy to stay current with evolving threats, make certain that securing your print environment is a priority. Making these security considerations a standard part of your processes will help you to make informed decisions and take appropriate actions to address the diverse and ever-evolving threats out there.

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