This Week in Imaging: Fax Now Vulnerable to Hacking, According to Researchers

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Photo credit: Kathy Wirth

When we think of hacking of printers and copier/MFPs, we tend to think of hackers using more sophisticated methods – downloading malicious firmware, searching for vulnerable default passwords, and the like,  – ultimately gaining access to print jobs, company data, and a company’s network. As firms such as Xerox have explained, today’s Internet-connected printers and MFPs that can now be accessed remotely are just as much access points into the company network as PCs are.

In what it describes as groundbreaking research, Check Point Software Technologies, an Israeli firm, recently announced that it’s uncovered a new vulnerability that they call “Faxploit.” With Faxploit, cyber criminals could infiltrate any home or corporate network by exploiting fax machines or All-in-Ones and MFPs’ fax function.

A company’s fax number is the only thing required to carry out the attack. The researchers at Check Point stated that they used HP Inc. All-in-Ones as their test case, and cooperated with the company to ensure a patch for the vulnerability was provided for HP products. But they noted similar attacks could apply to other vendors, as the vulnerability lies in the fax protocol itself, which could enable hackers to gain access to a company’s entire network.

The hack works by sending an image file through the phone line — or a file that the fax machine thinks is an image file — and that is coded to contain malicious software. When a company receives the photo, the image is decoded and uploaded into the fax-printer’s memory, allowing hackers to take over the device and spread the malicious code through the network.

“Many companies may not even be aware they have a fax machine connected to their network, but fax capability is built into many multifunction office and home printers,” said Yaniv Balmas, group manager of security research at Check Point.

Many fax machines are also too old to even update. That means it will be difficult for companies to stop hackers from entering their system.

And, as much as we talk about the shift from paper to digital, fax is still widely in use. There are still currently around 46.3 million fax machines still in use, with 17 million of them in the United States alone, according to Check Point. Japan, in particular, still maintains an affinity for the fax machine, with 100 percent of its businesses and 45 percent of private homes still owning a fax machine.

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