Your printer might be a cyber security risk. Here’s what you can do about it.

July 01, 2021

Printers. Most offices have them (even if you are trying to go paperless).  

Frustrating, bulky, loud – yes. But a cyber security risk?

We’re guessing they wouldn’t be the first thing you’d think of if you were asked about cyber security.  

But as innocent as they seem, printers can be a hidden weak spot in your business.

In fact, because of their more infrequent use, as more and more files are shared in the cloud and communication happens over the internet, printers may have become more of a target.  

If you weren’t already aware, here’s why your office printer could be a vulnerability and how to secure any potential weak spots in your armour.

Why your printer could be vulnerable to attack

Printers are one of the most commonly used devices on a shared network.

Being accessible in this way makes them convenient, but the sheer number of people who have access to it can make it more vulnerable.

Because nobody often thinks of it as a security risk the danger is it can be more vulnerable to compromise. Whether that’s because of the cost of maintenance or simply forgetting to keep its firmware up to date.

Any compromised endpoint (a user facing device connected to a shared network) is in danger of being exploited.

The recent increase in home working also poses a potential added complication when it comes to employees using printers. With even less control over what printer is being used and where printed hard copies are ending up, the risk has only increased.

The cyber security threats posed by pesky printers

So, what are the main threats posed by your office printer? Of course, printers are at risk in some of the same ways as other devices on your network.

However, there are other specific threats that it’s important to be aware of. Here are a few of the main ones.

Endpoint security

Printers, like any compromised endpoint on a company’s network, could become a backdoor for attackers.

Assuming it uses the internet to receive data, it could be accessed and used as a tunnel to other devices on the network.

Intercepted and rerouted data

Potentially sensitive data is being sent to printers all the time, so that the company has hard copies of that information. As a result, printers are probably on the radar of hackers.

If a printer is compromised or sitting on an insecure network, then files could be intercepted, rerouted and even printed off in another location.

This could be done all without you knowing about it.

Hard copies and unprinted docs going missing

It’s not just external threats that could make your company vulnerable.

Although hopefully this isn’t too much of a problem in your organisation, printers do make it easier for printed material to go missing.

Hard copies left at the printer before you’ve had a chance to get there could be vulnerable to theft or data breaches. This is more of a risk in shared office spaces that use shared facilities.

If there’s an error with the printer causing it to hold onto files and not print them, these could end up being printed later and fall into the wrong hands.

How to make sure your printer is secure

Hopefully you can see from these threats that securing your printer should be a key part of your cyber security strategy.

Indeed, it will be included in any external audit or assessment of your business cyber security.

So, what are few things you can do to ensure this isn’t an area of vulnerability in your business, especially considering it may not be used quite as much as it used to be.

Pull printing and MFA

Pull printing is a form of authentication stopping the user from printing the document until they’re at the printer itself and have given it permission to print.

This way you are ensuring total control of what happens to the hard copy and the multi-factor authentication means you are the only person capable of accessing that device at any one time.

Using a separate print server

This one’s a little more complicated and you may need a hand to help set it up, but it’s a great way of always printing securely.

It may also be something you can access remotely if you are working from home.

Essentially when you want to do a print job, the printer and host are held in a separate subnet, almost like a VPN, which means anything you send to the printer is protected. An attacker waiting on the other side of a printer they’ve identified as an access point, won’t be able to get in and access the user.

Update printer firmware

This is pretty much cyber security 101 but one of the best ways to make sure your printer is safe and not remaining vulnerable is to make sure everything’s up to date.

All printers have their own firmware that secures vulnerabilities and keeps them compatible with your operating system. When an update comes available, don’t put it off!

Turn off applications you’re not using

A lot of printers have a number of applications included for different functions.

If a few of these never get used, they could become a weak spot. To make sure you have control of every aspect of your hardware, be sure to have these removed.

Don’t ignore your printer and you should be fine

Of course, it also helps to be fastidious with your use of the printer. Having a company culture of only printing off things when necessary and shredding/handing in unused documents (they can always be printed off again) is a good idea.

If a lot of your staff are working from home, encourage them to be aware of the cyber security threat printers can pose and if possible don’t print off really sensitive info until They’re in the office.

If they can access your network and the safeguards that come with it, through a VPN, even better.

As long as you’re aware that any device on your network could be vulnerable to attack, including printers, then you should be ok.

If you want help setting up extra safeguards in your business and aren’t sure whether your printer is vulnerable or not, give us a shout and we can take a look.

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