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Printer security weaknesses identified

April 26, 2012

PCWorld categorises five main threats and vulnerabilities of printers, both physical and technological.

Technology websites PCWorld has produced a list purporting to identify the five primary threats to security your printer presents, ranging to cyber attacks to physical document theft.

The most straightforward is document theft or snooping, noting that there are no provisions to prevent someone who collecting a printout that belongs to someone else.

Unsecured printer controls and settings can also present issues, as people may be able to mistakenly or intentionally redirect print jobs, have access to saved copies of documents and print history, or reset a printer to factory settings; which would erase any settings specified throughout ownership.

Printers with internal hard drives often store print jobs, scans and faxes: should a printer be stolen or person allowed uncontrolled access, they would have the capacity to recover potentially sensitive documents.

More akin to the typical view of printer security, hackers may be able to eavesdrop on the home or office network, and intercept documents travelling from computer to printer.

Finally, network-enabled printers themselves are extremely susceptible to hacking, with a number of older models lacking basic security functions including passwords and threat detection.

However, PCWorld is keen to stress vigilance against some of the more esoteric methodology used should the printer be connected to the internet: “The field of potential hackers becomes virtually limitless. Attackers could send bizarre print jobs to it, use the printer to transmit files, change its LCD readout, change its settings, launch denial-of-service (DoS) attacks to lock it up, or retrieve saved copies of documents.

“They might even install malware on the printer itself to control it remotely or to gain access to it”, an issue plaguing a high number of HP printers that could even result in combustion, as recently discovered by the University of Columbia.

PCWorld advises maintaining a secure location for your printer to limit unwarranted access, shredding documents no longer needed and password-protecting printers, as well as any appropriate internet and network access through the printer. Additionally, when discarding or upgrading a printer, ensure that any internal hard drives are sufficiently wiped before disposing of it.

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