Printer Cyber-Security

April 15, 2022 by
Printer Cyber-Security
Matthew Almendinger

Everyone is aware of the threat that hackers pose. In this digital age, it makes sense that criminals are working over the internet to break into private networks and steal data and control. Naturally, hackers tend to target the weakest link in a network to break in; however, what most commonly ends up being that weak link tends to surprise people. Printers are one of the most frequently overlooked parts of a network regarding cyber-security. A common misconception is that printers are not 'smart' like computers, essentially rendering them unhackable. However, that is, well, a misconception! While outside forces scheduling unwanted print jobs may only seem like a minor annoyance, printers can store sensitive data, meaning they can serve as a foothold to break into any other device connected to it. For your network to be protected, your printer has to be protected as well.

But how do you protect a printer?

The fact that printers can be hacked similarly to a computer also means that the best methods to protect them are the same methods you use to protect a computer. That means, first and foremost, enabling password protection. Additionally, similar to standard computers, most printers support having an anti-virus program manage them. Some printers even come with one by default. Since hackers are always looking for exploits they can use to break into devices and networks, they would naturally search for exploits in printers as well. That also means that developers would naturally create patches for any exploits discovered. Ensuring your printer's firmware is updated to the latest version is vital in keeping it and your network safe. As we always say, update everything. Updates aren't just for new features; they fix bugs and add security.

What about Wireless Printers?

Just like any data transferred wirelessly, print jobs can also be intercepted and read by hackers. That may not seem like a big deal at first until you consider what you might be printing. Financial documents, medical records, and all sorts of sensitive information get printed for one reason or another. There are two methods used to protect data sent in wireless print jobs:

  1. Do not allow your printer to be connected to an unsecured network. That is the simplest way for hackers to intercept wireless traffic.
  2. Encrypt your print jobs, similarly to how you would encrypt any sensitive data sent over wireless. Thankfully and similarly to how many modern printers come with anti-virus, many also come with encryption features by default.

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Since wired printers generally connect to one computer and not a network, the only way a hacker would be able to get to it is through hacking the computer first. That does not mean that wired printers need no protection, simply that not everything discussed here applies to them. You should ensure that all printers within your organization have proper security measures enabled.

Cyber-security will never cease to be necessary, so it is essential that you take the proper precautions to keep yourself safe from hackers.