New Quocirca Report Details Printer and Copier/MFP Security Risks

A recent report from market-research firm Quocirca examines the various security risks posed by printers and copier/MFPs, and recommends various safeguards to take. The report notes with its advanced connectivity and capacity to store large volumes of data, printers and MFPs have long been a “weak link” in IT infrastructure, and “one that businesses can no longer afford to be complacent about.”

The report notes that printers and MFPs runs their own software and services, but that its ability to monitor usage and collect data, as well as its network connectivity, only increases the potential for exploitation by hackers.

For instance, in June, several universities in the United States received bomb threats sent to campus printers and fax machines (see story here), while in March, 150,000 printers and MFPs were said to be hacked (see story here).

Quocirca notes that with printers and MFPs often deployed in easily accessible locations, it may be easy for unauthorized users to obtain documents containing confidential  or sensitive information left in paper-output trays, either intentionally or by accident. In Quocirca’s recent survey 61 percent of large enterprises admitted suffering at least one data breach through insecure printing.

Potential risks include:

  • Unclaimed output. Confidential or sensitive information can be collected inadvertently or intentionally by an unauthorized recipient.
  • Latent images on hard disk. All documents whether they are printed, copied, scanned, faxed, or stored are processed within the printer or MFP’s hard disk drive. This can present a risk not only if the device is hacked, but also at the end of life when potential hard-disk data could be recovered.
  • Unauthorised access to printer and MFP functions. If MFP settings and controls are not secure, it’s possible to alter and reroute print jobs, open saved copies of documents, or reset the printer to its factory defaults. Potential hackers could also attack printers and MFPs to either intercept or download copies of scanned documents; emails; and user-access credentials.
  • Network security risk. Jobs sent to the printer or MFP for printing typically sit unprotected on the server queue. At this stage, the printing queue can be paused and files copied and the queue restarted. In the worst case, a user from the outside can obtain confidential information, or place malware on the device. Open network ports also present a security risk enabling the printer or MFP to be hacked remotely via an internet connection. Printers can therefore be prime targets of denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. If data transmitted to a printer is un-encrypted, hackers are potentially able to access this data.

Quocirca recommends these security practices:

  • Ensure print devices are part of an overall information security strategy. Businesses must recognize that printers and MFPs are no longer “dumb peripherals” and that they must be integrated into an organisation’s security policies and procedures.
  •  Adopt a security policy for the entire printer fleet. Ultimately, in the event of a data breach, an organization must be able to demonstrate that it’s taken measures to protect all networked devices. It only takes one rogue or unsecured device to break an organization’s defences. Many organizations offer a multitude of devices across locations. An organisation should be able to monitor, manage and report on the entire fleet, regardless of model, age or brand.
  • Secure access to the network. Like other networked devices,printers and MFPs require controls that limit network access, manage the use of network protocols and ports, and prevent potential viruses and malware. Transmitted data should be encrypted.
  • Secure the device. Activate hard disk encryption and data overwrite functionality. Hard disk encryption adds an additional layer of security securing stored data be it actively in use by the device, sitting idle on a device, and/or used by the device in a previous job. To avoid the risk of data being recovered when the printer or MFP is moved or disposed of, data overwrite kits should be employed to remove all scan, print, copy, and fax data stored in the hard disk drive.
  • Secure access. Implement user authentication to eliminate the risk of unclaimed output being left in printer trays. User authentication, also known as pull-printing, ensures documents are only released to the authorised recipient. Authentication through smartcards or biometrics is required before access permission to the printer is given and can be enabled across an enterprise-wide device fleet, a specified printer, or an external authentication server such as Microsoft’s Active Directory.
  • Secure the document. In addition to access and device controls, digital-rights management capabilities can further discourage unauthorised copying or transmission of sensitive or confidential information. This can be achieved by enabling features such as secure watermarking, digital signatures or PDF encryption. Secure watermarking embeds user-defined text only visible when a document is copied; encrypted PDFs can only be accessed by users with correct passwords; and digital signatures help verify a PDF’s source and authenticity. Some devices also have enhanced features to detect the type of document or even the content and determine if the user has permission to print.
  • Ongoing monitoring and management. To ensure compliance and to trace unauthorized access, organisations need a centralized and flexible way to monitor usage across all print devices. Auditing tools
    should therefore be able to track usage at the document and user level. This can be achieved by either using printer or MFP audit log data or third-party tools, which provide a full audit trail that logs the identity of each user, the time of use and details of the specific functions that were performed. Businesses operating a diverse mixed-brand fleet should consider vendor-agnostic tools to provide these capabilities. As security threats are constantly evolving, continuous monitoring is essential to establish ongoing governance of the print infrastructure.
    8. Seek expert guidance. Manufacturers and managed print services (MPS) providers continue to develop and enhance their security offerings. Take advantage of security assessment services which evaluate potential vulnerabilities in the print infrastructure. Note that not all assessments are equal. Ensure that the assessment provider demonstrates the credentials to fully evaluate the security risks across device, data and users. There are also a range of security certifications that are published by the National Institute for Standards and Technology.

To see the complete Quocirca report, visit Ringdale here.

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