Printer Security 101: How a Simple Printer Can Compromise Your Network

Publication date: Oct 05, 2023

Last Published: Dec 07, 2023

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Read Time : 7 minutes

In this article, we explain what makes printers so dangerous and provide actionable advice on printer security best practices and how to secure them.

More and more businesses these days put a lot of thought into securing their computers, servers, and smart devices, and that’s a good thing because cybersecurity threats are continually evolving and becoming more sophisticated. However, while these efforts are commendable, many companies overlook the seemingly innocent printer as a potential security risk. Learn more in this article on how to secure your printers.

Printers Are One of the Most Commonly Overlooked Security Risks

Ignoring printer security vulnerabilities can be a perilous oversight, one that exposes your network to risks far more concerning than a paper jam. Printers have evolved from mere document generators to smart devices connected to your network, and just like any other connected device, they’re vulnerable to cyber threats.

A recent security advisory from HP highlighted critical vulnerabilities in hundreds of its models, including a buffer overflow flaw that could allow hackers to execute remote code on your network.

This isn’t merely a theoretical concern; it’s an urgent issue acknowledged by industry experts.

But the risks aren’t limited to remote hacking attempts. Consider Wi-Fi vulnerabilities, as Canon recently did when they warned users that sensitive data stored in the Wi-Fi settings of their printers could be exposed. This exposure can be a significant security loophole that provides a hacker with all they need to infiltrate a network. When selling or even just repairing a device, this “leftover” data could make you susceptible to a wide range of malicious activities.

And if you think this is an exaggeration, cybersecurity researchers at Cybernews managed to hack close to 28,000 unsecured printers worldwide, all in an effort to demonstrate the magnitude of the issue. Their success rate? A staggering 56%, which extrapolates to about 447,000 unsecured printers worldwide.

In short, printers have become far more than output devices—they’re potential entry points for data breaches and unauthorized network access. Any failure to secure them can open the floodgates to a slew of cybersecurity issues.

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What Can Happen When Your Printers Are Not Secure

The consequences of poorly secured printers can cascade quickly, and before you know it, you’re looking at a full-blown security disaster. Let’s take a look at what the main risks are:

Data exposure: Unsecured printers can become goldmines for hackers looking to steal sensitive information. From confidential reports to personal employee data, a compromised printer can leave the door wide open for unauthorized individuals to access your company’s data.

Print job manipulation: Imagine if someone reroutes your confidential print jobs to a different printer—maybe one outside of your organization. They could also alter the content of your documents before they’re printed, sabotaging your business efforts without your immediate knowledge.

Denial-of-service attack: Compromised printers can be commandeered to participate in Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks against external targets. While being used as part of a coordinated attack, your printer would become unresponsive to legitimate business needs.

Network infiltration: A printer can be a stepping stone for infiltrating the rest of your network. Once a hacker gains access to your printer, it’s often easier to navigate through to more valuable targets, like servers storing customer data or financial records.

Compliance risks: Failure to secure your printers can result in non-compliance with various industry regulations. Whether it’s healthcare, finance, or any other regulated sector, the risks of not adhering to compliance standards can be devastating. This can range from monetary fines to loss of customer trust and even legal repercussions.

In sum, a poorly secured printer isn’t just a minor hiccup—it’s a serious security blind spot that can quickly escalate into a range of challenges. That’s why it’s paramount to address this blind spot immediately.

Best Practices for Fortifying Your Printer Security

In general, printer security is all about implementing cybersecurity best practices. These simple measures can go a long way in preventing printer security vulnerabilities like unauthorized access and protecting sensitive data:

1. Implement Role-Based Access Controls

Let’s start by keeping it simple: It’s likely that not everyone in the office needs to print, and they definitely don’t need to print from every device on the network. Limit user access by role and responsibility, and turn off the printer during non-business hours to minimize its vulnerability.

2. Monitor Print Activity

Use print tracking software to keep an eye on what’s being printed, where, and by whom. Anomalies in print activity could be your first clue of a security breach or at least a sign that you need to remind employees about responsible printing.

3. Stay on Top of Firmware Updates

Just like laptops and desktop computers, printers also receive firmware updates from manufacturers. These updates often include security patches that close vulnerabilities and enhance the printer’s defenses. Neglecting to install these updates can leave your printer susceptible to a range of cyber threats.

4. Disable Wireless and Cloud Printing

Wireless and cloud printing features offer convenient options for remote printing, but they can also serve as potential entry points for unauthorized users. If your printing needs don’t necessitate these features, it’s a good idea to disable them. This minimizes the avenues through which hackers can access your printer and, by extension, your network.

5. Put Your Printer Behind a Strong Firewall

Positioning your printer behind a strong firewall adds an additional layer of security that can filter out unauthorized access attempts and suspicious traffic. Make sure to configure the firewall settings to be as restrictive as possible while still allowing essential functions. This means only permitting network traffic from trusted IP addresses and blocking all unnecessary ports.

6. Change Default Admin Credentials

This may sound like a no-brainer, but many businesses skip this step. That’s a problem because most printers come with default usernames and passwords for administrative access that are easy to find online, which makes them a low-hanging fruit for hackers. Changing the default admin credentials should be one of your first steps in securing your printer.

7. Decommission Your Printers Securely

Last but not least, it’s crucial to decommission printers in a secure manner because they store a surprising amount of sensitive data, such as print jobs and network configurations, in their internal memory. Before decommissioning, reset the printer to its factory settings and use secure erasure methods to remove any lingering data. If possible, physically destroy the internal memory components.

Conclusion on Printer Security

Securing your printers may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about cybersecurity, but as we’ve described here, it should be a crucial part of your overall security strategy. The risks associated with neglecting printer security are too significant to ignore, from data exposure to network compromise, infiltration, and even regulatory non-compliance.

If you’re a small to medium-sized organization in Washington D.C., Maryland, or Virginia, you might be wondering how best to approach this task. That’s where OSIbeyond can step in, offering a broad range of IT support and strategy alongside cybersecurity services that are specifically tailored to meet the unique needs of your organization.

Don’t let something as seemingly inconsequential as a printer be the weak link in your cybersecurity chain. Reach out to OSIbeyond and let us fortify your printer security.

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