How Printers Help Hackers Hide In Plain Sight

Printers and Hackers

Spies and thieves often do their best work by hiding in plain sight. No one suspects the person sipping coffee at the table across from you in the coffee shop – the one who happens to be reading your computer through the unsecured Wi-Fi. No one ever thinks that the PIN they enter at the ATM or debit card terminal is being watched by someone a few feet away. Few people consider the danger of including their real birthdate when opening a membership online. And certainly no one ever suspects the printer of anything at all except occasionally needing paper.

But these are all examples of how we use technology daily to solve our immediate concerns without additional thought. Life would be very hard without Wi-Fi, ATMs and printers. Their roles are as quiet, subservient support technologies. They are the discreet butlers of our digital lives. No one ever suspects the butler.

It is for that reason – that lack of diligence – that printers have become the gaping hole in the wall of cybersecurity. Companies spend billions of dollars annually seeking to protect networks and ensure that computers are safe and virus free. But few people pay attention to the silent peripherals.

Decision makers seldom hear about hacks through printers. To the average, honest working person, they are simply output devices. But to the wearers of the black hats, they are willing and compliant access points, not only to a company’s existence, but beyond, to everything that company is connected to, out there on the internet.

The most infamous DDoS attack in recent memory happened on October 21, 2016, when a brand of malware called Mirai brought Netflix, Twitter, Amazon and others to a crawl. Experts believe this Malware made its entrance through an unprotected Internet of Things (IoT) device like a printer, a router or a camera. These are devices that are seldom protected by vigorous passcodes and anti-hacking tools. They’re just simple devices after all.

But this is where innocence and naiveté have no place. The belief that such devices are low risk, having little value to hackers, is fatally incorrect. To remain unaware of just how a sophisticated hacker can use an unsecured printer to access the network is precisely the type of thinking that can bring companies down. To forget just what lives inside a printer – images of documents, user credentials – is downright dangerous.

Get Everything and Everyone into the Audit

Every device, no matter how innocent looking, must be included inside a rigorous and regular security audit, must be monitored regularly, and must be brought up to speed in terms of security software. If a device can communicate, if it has a computer inside, no matter how small, it can be compromised.

The people who use these devices must be trained in the same type of hygiene that they currently (hopefully) apply to their network passwords and laptops. There must be a mechanism to enforce policies.

It’s Not Just External Spies

Printer security does not end with shoring up the software. Companies must also consider the people on the inside who are using these devices daily.

  • How are they sending? Wirelessly? Is this allowed? Is it being done securely?
  • Are they sending to a remote printer in an office miles away? If so, who might be there? What might they see?
  • Are they operating within normal behavior patterns? For example, when a person who generally makes five copies a day, makes a few hundred copies on a quiet Sunday morning, this is an unusual behavior pattern worthy of investigation.
  • Do your printers have whitelists or credential tables allow specific access and activity privileges to each employee?
  • Are passwords being used correctly and changed regularly? Are employees complying?
  • Are employees actually communicating with the printer they think they are?

The key message is that printers play a fundamental role in business life, both at the Workplace and in peoples’ homes. They are communications devices armed with computing power, and if left unsecured, they become dangerous. Secure printers must be equipped with features like secure whitelisting, run-time intrusion detection, automated compliance, usage certificates, and even a “golden BIOS copy” to revert to, should a compromise be detected.

As more and more devices connect to the global network, they increase convenience, but at a cost of substantially weakened security. A printer that is not secure should be turned off and physically disconnected, since the bad guys are getting much better at hiding in plain sight.

For more information on printer security, visit HP’s Secure printing page and check out the webinar. To do a quick self analysis of your printers, visit HP’s analysis page here.

This post is brought to you by HP and IDG. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of HP.

By Steve Prentice

Data Fallout.png
Disaster Recovery Plan.png
Recovery Experts.png
Data Bed.png
Mark Ardito
‘Legacy systems’ often get a bit of a rough time in the IT community. But perhaps this is unfair. After all, in many cases you’re talking about software platforms that have lasted and been effective ...
Metasploit-Penetration-Testing-Software-Pen-Testing-Security
Vulnerability Scanners Cyber security vulnerabilities are a constant nuisance and it certainly doesn't help with the world in a current state of disarray and uncertainty. Vulnerabilities leave businesses and individuals subject to a wide range ...
Gary Bernstein
Managing Your Internal IT Your company's internal IT team is responsible for keeping things running smoothly, and they deserve all the support you can give them. Here are ten ways to make their lives easier ...
Louis
Why cybersecurity spending Is resilient Cybersecurity tech stacks must close the gaps that leave human and machine endpoints, cloud infrastructure, hybrid cloud and software supply chains vulnerable to breaches. The projected fastest-growing areas of cybersecurity ...
Rahul Subramanyam
Fixing AWS: The CloudFix Story A conversation with Rahul Subramanyam. CEO at CloudFix, and CTO at ESW Capital AWS is huge, but it’s not perfect. Because of its size and its approach to innovation there ...
  • Plural Site

    Pluralsite

    Pluralsight provides online courses on popular programming languages and developer tools. Other courses cover fields such as IT security best practices, server infrastructure, and virtualization.

  • Isc2

    ISC2

    (ISC)² provides IT training, certifications, and exams that run online, on your premises, or in classrooms. Self-study resources are available. You can also train groups of 10 or more of your employees. If you want a job in cybersecurity, this is the route to take.

  • App Academy

    App Academy

    Immersive software engineering programs. No experience required. Pay $0 until you're hired. Join an online info session to learn more

  • Cybrary

    Cybrary

    CYBRARY Open source Cyber Security learning. Free for everyone, forever. The world's largest cyber security community. Cybrary provides free IT training and paid IT certificates. Courses for beginners, intermediates, and advanced users are available.