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Jane Garrity - HP Imaging and Printing Product Manager

Printers as a Security Threat

You’ll Never Look at the Paper Tray the Same Way


In today’s digital age, everybody knows just how important security is. We look at PCs and smartphones—and the valuable data they hold—and immediately understand how rich a target those devices are to cyber criminals. We know the threat is real. But with so much focus on the data center, on storage, on mobile devices…are organizations today overlooking a key weakness?

Network PrinterUnfortunately, printers are just not being considered as a security threat currently—certainly not on the same level as other peripherals or devices that access the network. In reality, printers have many open access points, and when they are connected to an organization's network, they can actually be an open door to data for any hacker to access.

I think the reality is that some people don’t realize how easy it is for hackers to break into unsecured printers. If the printer’s on the network, it has an IP address. There are plenty of ways for people with less-than-good intentions to find that address. And once they do, they can gain access to the device and change settings. They can take scanned documents that may be sitting on the hard drive within the printer and send them outside your organization. They can gain access to your Active Directory information. If there's a directory of users who access the printer, they can find that directory and then they can pick one and go right into your network. Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy for them.

Printers nowadays look a lot like PCs. They have hardware, firmware, software, and even Internet access. They can email and fax. They have network access and are accessible to multiple users. They are a fully functioning client on the network. From the view of a network security, printers require the same degree of protection as PCs or any other mobile devices that need to be secure on the network.

To help deliver that protection, HP has implemented their SureStart BIOS firmware—the same technology currently used on their PCs and notebooks. They've mapped this over to their printers as well. It works behind the scenes. When the printer device powers on, it helps to safeguard your device from attack. It validates the integrity of that firmware code at every boot cycle.

Upon startup, if a compromised version is detected, the printer will boot a backup known good copy. Other embedded features include white listing and run time intrusion detection. This checks for anomalies during complex firmware or memory operations. In the event of an intrusion, the device automatically reboots. HP Security Manager software—that can also be used to manage a full fleet—goes deeper with the ability to access information about who is using the printers, where they're located, and which printers have any authenticity that might be at risk. It offers the ability to control the whole fleet from one management system.

If this post has got you thinking about your own printer fleet, it’s time to give the experts a call or listen to our podcast Unsecured Printers: A Hacker’s Goldmine. We can help you reduce your risk with a free Printer Assessment that will allow you to see which printers, if any, are vulnerable to attack. 

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