They hacked 28,000 unsecured printers to raise awareness of printer security issues?

Ah, the ubiquitous office printer. Found in nearly every office around the world, at least one or two of these devices are usually plugged into our networks and make the term “paperless office” sound ridiculous. After all, modern office automation suites have made it easier than ever to generate tons of documentation and we need these devices to churn out all sorts of legally binding documents in the workplace.

Sadly, vast numbers of the printers on the Internet today are unsecured and quite possibly already compromised. We’ve been warning our clients about the dangers of unsecured printers for decades now, but they are still sadly overlooked in many cases.

In this article, the cybersecurity experts at CyberNews hijacked close to 28,000 unsecured printers worldwide and forced them to print out a guide on printer security. While we don’t condone such acts (they can be considered criminal in many jurisdictions), you have to admire the fact they only printed out a guide to securing the printers. We’ve seen hijacked printers used as web servers to host porn, act as part of botnets, and even as part of a VOIP hack that allowed the attacker to capture every conversation on a telephony system. Why is it that so many don’t take it seriously? We’ll never understand.

Securing your printers doesn’t have to be a difficult task. Here we offer our 5 crucial steps to securing your home/office printer:

Five Crucial Steps to Securing the Home/Office Printer

  1. Assume that network printers are not secure out of the box. Many have default administrator usernames and passwords that must be changed. This is easily configured in the utility settings of a new printer. Grab that user manual and learn how to access the admin settings. Change the password for the administrator and learn about the other settings you can change to increase the security.
  2. Always make sure to use the latest firmware for any printer. While you’re browing the user manual, take the time to go over to the vendor’s web site and find the support page for the model of printer you are installing. Check to see if there is a new firmware release for the printer and update to the most recent version following the instructions you find there. This is how manufacturers fix known vulnerabilities. Out-of-support printers are the most vulnerable because manufacturers stop updating firmware. Make it a point to periodically go back to that site and check for updates. No one is going to call you to let you know it’s vulnerable unless you have a security team like True North Cyber performing regular vulnerability assessments of your network.
  3. The difference between consumer and business-class network printers is software for management and monitoring. Most of the larger printer manufacturers offer software to assist in monitoring your printers. If you have a large number of printers to keep up with, we recommend you check out: HP JetAdvantage Security Manager, Brother Device Management & Security, or Lexmark Markvision.
  4. Make sure to turn off unused or unnecessary protocols that allow remote access to your printer. Many printers have built in firewalls the consumer can enable to prevent access from external networks. Many printers come with a web server enabled along with an FTP server, and the ability to connect via a TELNET session. Along with these unnecessary services come unnecessary accounts. Make sure they are all disabled.

    If your business is supported by an MSP or an in-house IT shop, they should configure your firewall or UTM to prevent access from outside the network. They should also configure the network settings so the printer responds only to commands from specified ports on a network switch or router.
  1. Printers store images of the documents they print. Configure a printer to purge its memory, or disable the storage functionality altogether. If your office needs to print very large documents on a regular basis, consider enabling a print spooler on the network to handle that load and secure it. Ensure all print jobs are routed through that spooler rather than leaving terrabytes of free storage sitting on the network that isn’t well managed. Alternatively, you may set up encryption using the printer utility or firewall settings to safeguard printer storage.

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