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The Very Real Risks of Printer Security

Unfortunately, almost everyone knows about computer hacking and the security risks we all face on our PCs. The regularity and seriousness of the attacks seems to have accelerated over the last few years with the work of anonymous and other for-profit crime rings around the world. Now the problem of security seems to be following the move to mobile, targeting our smartphones and tablets as well.

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What might surprise you is that yet another potential target is sitting next to your computer. Believe it or not, printers are now yet another way that hackers can get into your life or business. Printer hacking may turn out to be a big source of revenue for hackers, and a big source of problems for the rest of us.

Some forms of printer hacking are fairly obvious, and won’t affect most of us directly. Hackers have talked, for instance, of using their skills to rig printers to print money or credit cards on a high level. Similarly, if hackers gained access to the printers that are already printing plastic cards, they could harvest thousands of brand new credit cards every day.

Understand the risks

Closer to home, however, the main benefit would be to “see” any documents you print. Even in a small business, using printers with laser toner, people regularly print proprietary or critical information. If hackers harvested all of your printed documents, they could quickly have access to your personal signature, basic identifying information, and financial data.

Of course, hackers would be happy to have fun, too. The obvious joke would be printing compromising or embarrassing documents along with a coversheet identifying the employee that supposedly printed them, just for “lulz”. Another prank would be programming the printer to add the same print flaw to every document, making the support team pull out their hair trying to fix it.

Of course, your printer is part of the office network, making it a potential gateway to everything else. Hackers could use your printer as an access point by which they map the rest of the network, making future attacks easier. This is actually the biggest risk for printer security. Attacks through printers may be silent and never detected, but provide the vulnerability that leads to bigger and more damaging attacks.

Worst of all, one recent study even suggested that hackers could remotely adjust the firmware in your printer, causing it to overheat. This would destroy the printer, but could even cause it to catch fire in the middle of the office. At this point, it is only a possibility, but it certainly points towards the possibility of serious malware and significant costs.

Protecting your assests

Before you rip the USB cord out of your home printer, you should know that your home printer is probably mostly safe for now. The most important thing is to have a secure home network. It only makes sense to hack into printers with network connectivity – particularly office printers that work as a print hub to multiple computers. The more complex these machines are, the more they function as computers themselves and the more vulnerable they are to attack. The problem is also one with a reasonable solution. These systems can also be secured just like a PC – with good network management techniques and security software.

The important thing, however, is to be aware of the danger and take steps to prevent it. As Brendan O’Conner warned several years ago, “Stop treating them as printers. Treat them as servers, as workstations.” Until IT managers respond to that prescient warning, the risk will continue to be real and significant.

Author Bio:- Joel Arnold writes for Inkpal.com, a greener ink supply website offering remanufactured laser toners and ink cartridges, all while on his journeys around the world. These journeys have lead him to places like, Central Asia, Northern Africa, and throughout Europe. His main interests include Global Economics, Writing and obviously travel.

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