Cybersecurity awareness has come a long way in recent years. Today's digitally transformed enterprises are acutely aware of cloud security risks, malware, and ransomware attacks. However, more often than not, printer security is neglected or simply overlooked, sometimes with devastating consequences.
But it's just a printer, right?
Well, not exactly. While print devices print documents as expected, these machines are much more than that.
Printers are like minicomputers. After all, they run an operating system (OS) and store data (printed or scanned) on hard drives. Any connected device can be a network security risk, and printers and copiers are no exception.
As such, printers are still a typical gateway targeted by hackers to breach enterprise networks.
What Are the Security Risks Posed by Your Office Printer?
Although a printer isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of cybersecurity risks, printers pose a significant threat. For example, once cybercriminals gain access to your network printers, they can disrupt operations by pushing through unauthorized print jobs.
Even worse, an unsecured printer can put the whole enterprise network at risk. All it takes is just one open vector to gain access to any connected device.
Hackers can also access and steal confidential documents and sensitive data like patient information whenever it's stored inside your printer. If the unthinkable happens, you will also have to deal with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance violation fines for the data leak.
Threat actors can also use enterprise print devices to launch massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. This occurs whenever IT staff fail to give printer security adequate attention and ignore simple steps like changing the default password to a strong password.
The Mirai botnet malware attack is a good example of how cybercriminals take over smart devices like printers and routers and remotely control them through a zombie network of bots.
So, it doesn't come as a surprise that almost 60% of businesses in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States suffered print-related data breaches resulting in data loss that cost an average of more than $400,000.
Given the fact that many of us work remotely in hybrid work environments, that home printer also increases your enterprise security risk exposure.
How Do We Mitigate Printer Security Risks?
In an era where smart multifunction printers or MFPs are connected just like full-fledged networked computers, we can't afford to shove them into the corner of the room and forget about them.
Like IT teams remain alert to paper jams or the need for a new ink cartridge, they must also be alert to firmware updates, patches, and more.
To protect enterprise network printers from unauthorized access, spying, and a potential security breach, it's vital to follow established security measures and enforce strict access controls. And follow best practices.
Top 11 Print Security Best Practices
1. Devise a Printer Security Strategy
When creating an overall cybersecurity strategy for your business, don't forget to include a printer security strategy. Just like companies establish standards, policies, and processes for different technologies, it's also important to discuss how various departments will use printing resources across the organization.
Businesses that adopt a layered strategy covering all the basics can quickly incorporate advanced security functionality as printing operations. This approach will help enable secure operations as the company evolves and scales.
While you're at it, formulate a formal policy against abandoning both legacy printers and printouts. Threats to security and privacy aren't limited to digital environments, and employees should be aware of that.
2. Change the Default Password
Whether it's an old-school printer or a multifunction device, it's critical to change user pins and passwords. Changing passwords often is also a good idea, as using the same password for a long time or using the same password across devices increases your risk exposure.
It's also important to ensure that IT teams follow password security best practices during this exercise.
3. Update Printer Firmware
Printer manufacturers regularly fix known vulnerabilities in the printer firmware for different models. In this scenario, it's vital to stay up to date security-wise to avert a potential cyberattack.
For example, printer manufacturer HP published two critical security bulletins in May 2022 informing customers about vulnerabilities affecting hundreds of printer models.
Unfortunately, the firmware that patched known security issues wasn't available for all models. In this case, if you can't patch the network printer, you have to remove it from the network immediately.
Firmware updates are even more critical if you use a printer at home. This is because business-class printers have additional security features lacking in home printing machines. As such, it's best to set up a regular reminder to check for firmware updates every few weeks.
4. Use Robust Integration Software
It's always best to use the native software provided by network-connected devices and use integration software to holistically secure access controls and the environment. This approach helps improve printer security without impacting workflow enhancements.
5. Enable Multi Factor Authentications
It's also important for users to identify and authenticate themselves before accessing printing functions. This approach helps limit access to potentially sensitive information stored on the computer.
While you're at it, you can also enforce multi factor authentication (MFA) to ensure that only authorized users are on your network.
6. Avoid Running Unnecessary Services
Some printers come with unnecessary and often insecure protocols out of the box. For example, many machines come with File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), and Telnet by default.
Leaving such services enabled allows hackers to directly access printer data. Malicious actors can also potentially browse through the printer's hard drive and sift through the data stored there.
By disabling unused services, you can mitigate risk and ensure that cybercriminals don't use your printer for nefarious purposes.
7. Avoid Storing Printer History
If possible, avoid storing your print history in the office printer. This approach helps avert a potential data breach if unnecessary services are left running. Eliminating printer history also makes a possible attack less attractive to cybercriminals.
8. Place Printers on a Dedicated Network
Placing printers on a separate network within the office doesn't stop hackers from stealing printer data. Still, it will eliminate the potential of using the machine as an entry point to launch a broader attack on enterprise networks.
As a critical part of your corporate network, printers represent their own infrastructure and should be managed accordingly.
There are enough tools these days to track almost every aspect of the infrastructure. You can also see who is violating printing policies while identifying potential opportunities to minimize waste and save money.
9. Encrypt Print Jobs in Transit
Encrypt print jobs by default to ensure that print data in transit or at rest on the hard drive will be rendered meaningless in the event of a security breach. This approach acts like your last line of defense or an insurance policy if threat actors manage to breach enterprise networks.
10. Deploy a Firewall
Although it might seem obvious, IT teams often neglect securing printer environments with a reliable firewall. The firewall comes pre-installed if you're running your operation on a Microsoft Windows OS. All you have to do is ensure that it's enabled at all times.
This approach will make it harder for cybercriminals to access unused protocols remotely. However, for advanced firewall protection, it's best to go with a specialized best-in-class firewall.
11. Engage in Regular Security Training Workshops
Whether staff are on-premises or working remotely from home or a café, it's vital to ensure that they follow cybersecurity (and print security) best practices.
While educating employees about the benefits of the zero-trust approach and best practices, it's also important to ensure that staff doesn't attempt to use print services to print documents with sensitive information while away from the office.
At the same time, it's essential to ensure that documents aren't printed remotely and abandoned on-premises. As such, taking a proactive approach to enterprise security can go a long way toward mitigating the risks posed by document imaging products.
As you can see from the above, your printer is a lot more than a print device that simply prints documents. Printers on the network play a key role in operational infrastructure. So, it's no surprise that it often leads to significant data breaches and compliance violations when businesses neglect printer security.