Advances in printer technology have created a new generation of printers with a high risk vulnerability to being a soft target for computer hackers. Most susceptible, of course, are those models which possess wireless connectivity enabling email and internet access.
In the busy workplace or even within the home environment, it's simply no longer the case of a quick top up of on board printer supplies, i.e. checking the paper tray and making sure all inkjet cartridges or the main toner cartridge are all present and at correct levels before switching on the printer. The only other action necessary was to feed the paper in correctly and the right way up in the hope of avoiding an annoying paper jam.
Many of the new generation of printers will possess a hard drive where images of all recent print jobs are stored and can be hacked into just like a desktop computer. One of the common problems with these new types of 'smart' printers is that they aim to be security conscious but fail by not making it always compulsory for users to create a new access password at the outset. Manufacturers simply provide a default, commonly used password such as 1,2,3,4 instead, and can be often found printed in the accompanying manual. By this astonishing oversight, printer manufacturers have presented a too-easy opportunity for a security breach.
However, some printer manufacturers will try to encourage the recognising of potential security hazards by attempting to change user behaviour before printing begins. However, it is now vital for individual users to become aware of key vulnerable areas by monitoring the life cycle and printing history of key documents.
A more mundane, everyday security risk, which is often reported as having occurred in the workplace, is due to 'uncontrolled printing'. Most applicable to when a printer is being shared by company staff or within a common print room area in a multiple business space, sensitive company, financial or even personal details can be accidentally retrieved by unauthorised personnel.
The shared printer is often employed to help reduce everyday running costs by replacing individual desktop printers with advanced multifunction peripherals. These type of printers perform as document-processing hubs and are able to multitask. This means the ability to scan or email to file destinations, hold documents in a print queue on local hard disk drives in addition to providing the standard print, copy and fax. The weak spot here is that documents can be emailed out which leaves no trace of the sender as the printer itself is used as the outgoing email address.
Generally, most businesses have invested into key IT security strategies and have been extremely rigorous with maximising their protection. By installing and constantly updating a range of antivirus software, firewalls, email and online content security, companies have been able to protect themselves against the more severe of external breaches of their computer network. However, the printer is too easily overlooked as few are aware that unsecured networked printers are also vulnerable to system intrusion.
Consequently, it may be just easier for businesses or personal users to seriously consider purchasing a printer which possesses built-in security features such as an integrated hard disk drive overwrite capability for automatic erasure of sensitive data from a printer's hard disk after file processing. At a higher level of security, is the option of hard disk encryption for archival retrieval, live data transmission, and document status detection, which requires manual authorisation to allow printing to proceed.