Securing the office remains a top priority for businesses of all sizes. Nevertheless, IDC’s research shows that most organizations fail to properly integrate print and document security within the overall approach to IT security. Many security and IT managers have assumed that systems put in place to protect the network would extend to other connected peripherals. But the network perimeter is crumbling, and every device connected to the network is now an endpoint security risk – printers and MFPs included. As a result, businesses must pursue a more comprehensive approach when it comes to security measures for protecting the print and document infrastructure.

To further complicate matters, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant increase in remote working. According to IDC’s COVID-19 Impact on IT Spending Survey, the percent of the global workforce working from home has gone from 14% of all employees prior to COVID-19 to 45% today, representing an increase of 211%. Organizations that were already challenged with securing the print environment are now struggling to deal with the impact of a more broadly distributed workforce. Meanwhile, the “hybrid workforce” is likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, perhaps destined to become the permanent operating model for businesses navigating toward the next normal.

Work-from-home (WFH) presents new security threats

During the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations first scrambled to simply stay operational by adopting ad-hoc workflows, collaboration technologies, and other cloud-based applications to ensure productivity and business continuity. While most companies were already supporting remote employees, the pandemic caused a sudden shift where for many businesses, remote workers outnumbered those in the office. Many organizations were simply unprepared to support the printing needs of the distributed workforce.

There are numerous challenges and factors to consider, beginning with the basic need to equip the home office. Newly remote employees have quickly moved to equip their home offices with the IT components necessary to complete their daily work tasks, with some office essentials such as laptops and monitors more easily transferring from work to home than others. Meanwhile, few organizations have provided guidance to remote employees when it comes to the procurement and use of printers. Some have advised employees to use their personal printing devices, while others allow employees to purchase new devices and reimburse printing expenses later.

This lack of uniformity across the organization poses significant security risks and has become a focal point for IT managers. Organizations are now in the difficult position where they must provide a printing experience that is convenient for employees while ensuring that remote printers and MFPs are in line with the necessary corporate compliance and security policies.

Organizational needs for WFH printing

When looking to optimize the printing experience for employees in a hybrid workforce, there are many factors organizations and print technology vendors must consider. Many components of WFH printing align with what is needed in an office setting, but there are also factors to consider specific to the home environment:

  • Print management. Organizations are challenged with monitoring and managing devices remotely. Traditional features of print management software including rules-based printing, job tracking, and accounting are still essential for businesses to gain better visibility of print usage, particularly with a hybrid workforce where devices are often not visible and usage patterns are not so easily monitored.
  • Personas. There are many variables to account for when considering the long-term printing needs for remote employees. Some organizations may prefer to self-manage, while others might want to fold remote devices into an existing or new managed print services (MPS) contract. When it comes to security, some organizations will need to look beyond what might be needed for device-level protection to ensure that sensitive business information is not exposed in the home environment.
  • Segments. Organizational needs vary greatly depending on company size (SMB versus large enterprise), industry, and print volumes. Businesses will need hybrid printing solutions tailored specifically to meet their organizational needs.
  • Customer Experience. Employees want a convenient, consistent, and seamless printing experience, regardless of where they are working. When looking to ensure employee productivity in a hybrid workforce, its essential that employee home-office settings mimic their traditional office settings.
  • Financial. Organizations are increasingly looking for flexibility in financing, moving from capex to opex, with monthly billing models and predictable costs. It is also important to consider how employers will manage the reimbursement of printing expenses for remote employees.
  • IT Needs. An increase in the number of WFH employees brings a shift to managing additional outside assets, which means IT resources will be further stretched. Companies of all sizes will increasingly look to outsourced print service providers for help in managing distributed print devices and to ensure visibility and security of print.

Security factors to consider for the hybrid workforce

The shift to a hybrid workforce is pushing organizations toward a zero-trust security model, driven by the need to support remote users, cloud-based applications, and outside assets. It is no longer safe or even feasible to assume everything that sits behind the corporate firewall is safe. Instead, each request must be treated as though it originates from an open network. As a result, a holistic approach must be taken when developing a print security strategy in today’s business environment. Homes were never designed to be cybersecurity perimeters, so organizations must take several steps to create a more secure home environment. Employees need help understanding how to secure their wired and wireless home networks, and proper consideration needs to be given to even the most basic issues, including password resets, WiFi settings and usage, and proper methods for defining home versus guest network domains.

A holistic security approach must include measures to protect the print and document infrastructure. There are many security vulnerabilities associated with the print ecosystem that will only be exacerbated when home-based devices are brought into the mix. BIOS and firmware may be compromised, opening the device and network to a potential cyberattack; print and scan jobs could be intercepted as they travel on the network; the control panel poses risks as users could exploit device settings; and sensitive information stored on internal hard drives or left unattended in output trays could be exposed.

Meanwhile, there are other important factors to consider. In many cases, employees will need a separate, corporate-approved work printer for their home office as opposed to a personal device. Companies will need to reinforce best security practices with recurring training and awareness programs for employees. Other tools and technologies might be required to ensure secure print workflows, such as secure application development, cloud-based pull printing, device certificates, layered device capabilities, encryption, and multifactor authentication. Indeed, cloud-based printing technologies are likely to be viewed as key enabler for those organizations looking to simplify the need to provide consistent print experience for WFH employees. In this case, special care must be taken to incorporate the latest security and data privacy protection policies when printing from both cloud-based and hybrid environments.

Technology providers must enable organizations to properly equip their employees to provide consistent processes when transitioning to a remote/home-office, which includes a convenient and secure printing experience. Providing security solutions and services that support both remote workers as well as those who will eventually return to the office is critical to ensure business continuity and corporate governance and compliance. Overall, it is imperative that technology providers work with their customers to develop a long-term plan that includes ongoing monitoring and management of the print environment, enabling a secure printing experience for the hybrid workforce.

This post originally appeared on Looking for more information on workflow, business process optimization and digital transformation? Be sure to check out Workflow magazine and subscribe to Workflow eReport.

Allison Fantony is a research manager for IDC's Imaging, Printing and Document solutions group, responsible for the hardcopy industry transformation practice. Her core research coverage includes 3rd platform technology (cloud, data analytics, mobile, IoT), and document solutions (print management, device management, and enterprise output management). She is responsible for written research, forecasts, and analysis covering document solutions, and the industry transformation within the hard copy market. She looks at emerging technologies and adjacent opportunities for traditional hardcopy vendors.