Printers, especially multi-function print devices (MFPs), are a weak link in data security and IT operations. Most organizations assume that printers are safe, most rarely think of printers as computers, and many overlook the fact that printers offer access to not only private information in printed files but also to networked computers and servers.

As a result, most companies face some printer security risks. At the same time, only 59% actively manage printer security at all. Data protection is becoming more and more important. Organizations risk anything from embarrassment to a major legal issue to losing industry compliance in case of a data-breach, and printers present a major risk area.

Managed Print Services or MPS are one way to mitigate these risks, close security gaps, and work to improve print security as a whole. MPS providers step in to manage entire networks, creating security measures, encrypting networks, and integrating coordinated hardware protection alongside monitoring and management solutions to reduce risks.

Hardware Security with Pin and Card Access

Printer hardware is often extremely physically vulnerable. Most printers include USB ports, may be linked directly to internet, and may have open print queues, allowing anyone to print the queue, even going back 10+ pages. An MPS will evaluate print needs for your office or location and implement security measures that mitigate local risks.

For example, installing printer hardware to block read/write functions from USB ports, installing printers with pin or user access card requirements, and moving printers onto a private network are security protocols your MPs will likely choose.

Here, pin-code or access card access may actually help you earn compliance in your industry. If individuals have to enter a pin code to access their print queue, the risk of someone stealing or accidentally seeing private or personal data drops dramatically.

User Access Management

User access management is an important way to manage who can print what, where, and why. Here, you can assign print requests to a specific user, log those files, and protect those files from access by anyone but the original requester. This allows persons with access to private data such as salary information or customer data to print when needed without putting that data at risk. At the same time, user access management allows you to track when files are printed without permission, when printers are being abused, and when and where print-supplies are wasted.

Your MPS provider will install user access management as part of print security and print network management. Here, users will be assigned print accounts, which are linked to their approved print devices. They can then use those devices to access printers, which logs the access request and print file based on their username. User access management also works to prevent individuals from accessing printers with their own devices and potentially infecting networks with malware.

Printer Network Security

Most organizations install printers either on a local WIFI network or on a LAN. Both offer risks in that they can be accessed externally, do put the printer at risk, and do put everything else on the network at risk. For example, a printer with remote access allowed could offer a hacker access to your entire local access network. This means someone could pull files from every server on the print network (which is likely all your servers), accessing private and operational data at will.

An MPS will review your individual print network needs and install a solution that meets your security and access needs. For example, if security is your primary concern, a Virtual Local Access Network may be your best solution. Here, you have more control over which devices have access to each other, from where you can access the network, and to configure membership based on characteristics such as static physical address or user account allowing more flexible access and security.

Preventing Hacks and Malware

Most organizations will install printers behind a firewall and assume that it’s enough to protect the printer. However, printers, like computers, are vulnerable in many ways. Printers can become vulnerable when accessed remotely, when an unknown device connects to them, when software goes out of date, or when someone sends a print request.

Your MPS will review risks and work to mitigate them in every way possible. This mean:

  • Securing access from unknown devices
  • Ensuring printer software is kept up-to-date and patched
  • Securing data at every point from device to network to printer
  • Including printers in standard network and data-protection policies
  • Limiting physical access to printers

Printers are often left out of routine updates, security patches, and management, simply because they aren’t seen as computers. Most IT teams also don’t have the resources to manually manage every printer on their network. Partnering with an MPS vendor ensures that printers are always managed, kept up-to-date and monitored to reduce risks.

Ongoing Updates and Security Changes

Security risks will change over time. An MPS provider can continue to manage and optimize printer security to reduce risks, so that you can stay secure. Your MPS will treat printer security with the same respect as a computer, will introduce and continue to update security tools and protocols, and will keep printers up-to-date – even changing hardware and software as it no longer offers adequate protection.

Most importantly, an MPS will continue to monitor your print network, identifying changes and risks as they appear, identifying breaches as they occur, and working to mitigate and reduce risks. With complete network and data management, an MPS can greatly increase security by simply keeping your organization aware of attacks, potential vulnerabilities, and risks that can be mitigated. Many MPS will also back this up with employee training to reduce total risk as well.

Printer security is a major issue for organizations, especially those with confidential employee or customer data. While most organizations don’t have the resources to focus on print and print security as a core or to integrate printers into security information and event management or other IT security frameworks, an MPS will. If your print fleet provider is working to ensure that hardware and software is best-suited for your environment to reduce risks and improve security, while providing risk-mitigation such as firewalls, secure networks, and employee training, your organization is that much more secure.