Securing the Office Starts with the Workplace Printer

As the number of COVID-19 cases decreases, the hope is that more people will be able to fully return to the office, making the workplace once again the center of activity. While this development is anticipated by many, there is one group who will be watching the return to work for different reasons – cybercriminals.

Cybercriminals have flourished in the pandemic, taking advantage of people searching online for information about COVID-19, or else, taking advantage of lax organizational security systems to demand ransomware payments. According to the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report, the number of complaints of suspected internet crime grew 69% from 2019 to 2020, with reported losses exceeding $4.2 billion. Additionally, they are growing in complexity. Deloitte reports that the number of cyberattacks using previously unseen malware or methods has risen from 20% prior to the pandemic to 35% during the pandemic. As these attacks grow in number and sophistication, they can be even harder to identify and prevent.

One trend that has also contributed to the growth of cyberattacks is the IoT. Thanks to the connectivity of many everyday devices, from mobile phones to connected cars, the number of attack surfaces has grown exponentially. Within the workplace, one compromised device can open the door to enabling an attacker to access the entire network. With the growth of cybercriminals around the world, infiltrating a device can be as simple as sending an email with a malicious attachment, or a fake email from the user’s IT group requesting the person’s login credentials.

When securing the office, one device that can be overlooked, particularly by IT staff, is the office printer. Everyday tasks such as manual asset management and device configuration may be challenging and time-intensive without the help of a service technician. Traditionally, activities like installing device certificates individually can consume time needed for other tasks, as IT staff must rely on regular printer updates to ensure that security policies are met. At the same time, many business owners may not understand that data stored on servers or on an older printer’s hard drive can be shared unencrypted via the network when printing and, as a result, data may be diverted to printers in unsecured locations.

Although the printer may not seem like a highly sought-after target, they can be valuable to cybercriminals for several reasons. First, as one of the first IoT devices, printers offer connected access that can be compromised externally in theory by anyone with an Internet connection. Second, they often contain valuable and sensitive information – for instance, confidential documents – that can be worthwhile to an attacker. Third, they are widely used devices, particularly in sectors like healthcare, legal and financial services, meaning that even rendering a printer to be non-functioning could cause serious headaches for these businesses.

Most important of all, for many years printers were not treated securely, making them easy targets. As recently as last year, security experts have demonstrated the ease of hacking printers remotely. Security Week reports that in 2020, researchers hijacked 28,000 devices and provided instructions to print out a printer security guide, in part to show how easily it could be done. Real-world attackers often have far more nefarious goals, such as hacking printers to turn them into a botnet, which is a network of infected computers that can be used by malicious actors to carry out actions like DDoS attacks or mining for bitcoin.

While examining their print security set-up, organizations should consider three key areas. 

The device: As mentioned, targeting a networked printer can often be an easy way to access business information. Moreover, businesses may use older print devices that can be more easily compromised. In contrast, many newer printers come equipped with features like secure print release, enabling print jobs to only be released when users swipe their ID card or enter their credentials at the device. The printer may also offer the ability to hold the print job in the cloud, providing additional security protection.

The network: Should a cybercriminal compromise a device, protection within the network can provide another layer of defense. Particularly with the growth of corporate mobile devices and Bring-Your-Own-Device policies, it’s essential for businesses to identify a balance between providing users with tools to enable their staff to work from anyplace, while also minimizing the risk of intrusion from devices that are also used for personal tasks. Network security often includes protections like e-certificates, port filtering, IP address filtering, role-based access control and more.

The document: Even if a device is compromised, IT can prevent information from falling into the wrong hands by configuring it to only accept print jobs when the user is authenticated. To prevent unauthorized access, card authentication can also be required to access physical print facilities and restrict access to certain features such as copy, scan or fax, reducing the number of vulnerabilities from insider threats.

In many ways, the growth of the cloud is enabling stronger security features and protections than ever before. A robust cloud-based print management software solution simplifies the process of managing device configuration for a fleet of printers across a network – and the solution and security protections are scalable to thousands of devices.

With the latest software and hardware, it’s easy for IT staff to configure a fleet with network authentication to secure remote management, or else change passwords across the fleet to address new staff rotations. Protection of information can also include setting user or role-based permissions. This may mean limiting device functions to only specified users or groups, as well as restricting unauthorized users from changing device and security settings. In addition, security teams can disable manual access of ports and protocols and instead set devices automatically to log usage information.

Securing your customers’ office print infrastructure can be a relatively simple task if you know what to look for. I recommend focusing closely on the following three areas:

1. Secure by Design – Is the product developed securely from the manufacturer with predetermined settings to provide immediate protection? Built-in security will often be more comprehensive and seamless with other printer functions than security added as an afterthought. For optimal protection, look for a manufacturer that employs software developed to the highest of industry standards and offers experts who can immediately respond to any security-related issues.

2. Baseline Configuration – Does your printer rely on manual security updates in order to stay protected? If the printer is not regularly updated, this could create a vulnerability. When a device is deployed, it should have a baseline configuration applied to provide security protection from day one. Additionally, to ensure consistent protection, it should offer ongoing maintenance cloud solutions to ensure printers always have the latest security patches, without requiring any action from the customer.

3. Ongoing Maintenance – Does the manufacturer offer the ability to perform regular maintenance on the device remotely? While often forgotten, ongoing maintenance for adjusting settings and providing firmware updates can be key to keeping the device in compliance. Cloud maintenance has other benefits as well. Many cloud services offer default configurations or recommendations that can be adjusted based on the customer requests and/or specific industry or country requirements. In addition to configurations, offering the visibility to available firmware updates with the ability to schedule during non-peak hours provides the secure experience without impacting business.

Due to their security features, printers also play an important role in keeping consumers’ privacy secure. For example, printer features that restrict access can ensure companies are compliant with GDPR, keeping company data encrypted and secure. While violating laws can incur costly fines, a serious breach of customer data can do far more damage, eroding trust and brand reputation. According to the Ponemon Institute’s Cost of a Data Breach Report, data breaches in 2020 on average cost $3.86 million. Taking the proper security measures not only protects companies, but also their customers by extension.

Despite the recent growth of cyberattacks, maintaining a strong security posture can still be achieved and should be made an organizational priority. While companies may overlook their print devices when considering security, printers can serve as an important tool in the security arsenal, helping to prevent unauthorized access of information, and the penetration of devices that can lead to a network intrusion. With the stakes so high, choosing the right device today is an essential part of protecting against the new threats of tomorrow. 

Eric McCann has been with Lexmark for almost 15 years and serves as manager of Lexmark’s software product marketing team.  He works with customers every day to help manage their security issues and concerns and can be reached at