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How to Protect Your Office Printers from Cyber Attacks & Data Breaches

A woman's hand pressing the start button on a scanner machine, initiating the scanning process.

Printer security is often overlooked by business owners and managers even though data breaches can have a significant impact on your business. A 2022 study by Quocirca Print Security Landscape found that in the past 12 months, 68% of organisations have experienced data losses due to unsecured printing practices. Data breaches via printers can lead to substantial financial and reputational losses, but they also state many other negative impacts, such as a loss of business continuity and ongoing business disruption after the breach.

Printers are frequently underestimated as potential gateways into our networks, mainly because we don't directly engage with them. Instead, the interaction happens through our computers when we command them to print from our workstations. Often, users won't give a second thought to printing sensitive materials like invoices, proprietary product designs, or customer data.

Yet, many fail to understand that the network link between our computer and printer runs both ways. Not only can malware intercept jobs that go through the printer, but hackers also commonly exploit printers for indirect attacks. In other words, they hack the printer to access your computer, which is likely to have less fortified defences compared to your computer.

1. Get your printing basics set up correctly

Several factors can leave your printer vulnerable to cyberattacks or data breaches, so it's crucial to get the fundamentals right to prevent such situations.

Your first priority should be to change the default password on your printer during the setup process. Since most networked printers can be accessed remotely with a password, using an easily guessable password like "password123" won't cut it.

The next step is to set up your printer on a secure network. Connecting to your printer via an encrypted Wi-Fi network, instead of an open "guest" network is crucial. Additionally, implementing proper firewalls and other network security precautions is highly recommended.

2. Install firmware and malware updates regularly on your printers and photocopiers

Ensuring your printers are regularly updated to the latest firmware and software updates helps close any potentially exploitable weaknesses. Many print manufacturers include built-in malware protection - HP's 'SureStart'. It actively monitors threats and can even shut down your device if an attack is detected. This proactive action stops attacks and prevents further spread within your network.

In addition to the built-in malware software, there are extra precautions you can take to safeguard your printer. These measures are important when handling sensitive information. Managed Print Service (MPS) providers like Enabl can assist you in this regard.

3. Educate your team

It's important for everyone in your business with printer access to understand the responsibility that comes with it. Educating your staff about the following points is crucial:

  • Be cautious when printing from mobile devices, as they can be vulnerable to hacking.
  • How to recognise phishing scams and know how to avoid falling victim to them.
  • Ensure the physical safety of printed documents, such as not leaving them unattended in the printer tray.
  • Familiarize themselves with your company's policies regarding the handling of confidential data and information.

When onboarding new employees, we highly recommend covering these points. Additionally, conducting regular refresher training sessions will keep your staff up to date with best practices in information security.

4. Secure printer storage and jobs in transit

To safeguard against data breaches, it's crucial to ensure that only authorized individuals have access to your printing network. There are several steps you can take to achieve this.

First, encrypt print jobs during transit, eliminating the risk of interception and unauthorized access to your data.

Secondly, ensure that sensitive data stored within the hard drive or internal drive of your printing devices is also encrypted. Printed documents often exist as images within the device, making them vulnerable to hacking. Most printers have built-in encryption tools, but it's always wise to double-check.

Utilize your printer's encryption tools to establish:

  • A secure password for encrypting your printer's storage
  • The lifespan of documents stored on the printer's storage
  • Automatic deletion of secure print documents and encrypted PDFs
  • Automatic deletion of documents stored in a user's secure print queue after printing
  • Removal of user IDs and access for former employees

Finally, when a printer reaches the end of its life, ensure that sensitive data is removed and properly disposed of or recycled. This prevents unauthorized access to stored information. By following these measures, you can enhance the security of your printing network and protect against potential data breaches.

5. Implement a secure 'swipe to release' solution

One convenient printer add-on that brings benefits to both cost and security is a 'swipe and release' solution. With this printer software, your team members can easily print to an encrypted print queue. When they approach the printer, they can simply enter a code or swipe an ID card to retrieve their document.

This feature offers several advantages. Firstly, it allows staff to queue up multiple prints and release them all at once, reducing unnecessary printing. Additionally, it ensures that each print job reaches the intended recipient, preventing any confidential information from being left unattended on the printer.

By implementing this 'swipe and release' solution, you can simplify your printing process while ensuring the security of sensitive information.

The bottom line

If you fail to ensure proper protection for your printing network, the consequences can be detrimental. Data loss and damage to your business reputation, along with decreased productivity, can significantly impact your bottom line. However, there are simple steps that every business owner or manager can take to safeguard their business.

Regularly updating printer firmware, educating your team on information security, and securing your printing network and data storage are crucial. Reach out to Enabl for a no-obligation conversation about securing your print network. We're here to assist you.