As organizations increasingly become more digital, cybersecurity risks increase. Today, as many as 82% of all organizations have experienced breaches, and printers are often a key point of entry.

At the same time, some studies show that only 22% of IT teams recognize printers as a security risk. IT teams often take steps to integrate firewalls and security measures across general networks, but endpoint security is far and few between.

Yet, modern printers are advanced, specialized network hosts and they need the same security as any other host on your network. 

In an age when smart printers offer access to servers, networks, and sometimes sensitive information in the form of printer queues and print logs, it’s important to keep your print networks secure. Protecting endpoints is a key element of printer security, which means protecting the physical printer and actual printer access. 

Implementing Secure Printing 

Secure printing limits access to print files, and works to secure files on the network and accidental data loss through print files left in the queue or in the tray. Here, individuals request a print job and then have to sign into a printer using a badge or pin code and username to access the queue. 

Secure printing isn’t useful for every organization but it is for any organization in which data security is a large issue. 

Access Control 

User access control can be implemented at numerous levels depending on your organization and its security needs. The most basic printer access control allows for user management and whitelisting, so that you can always see who accessed a device. 

More advanced access control solutions allow IT to control users and groups to access printers, USB and other ports, WIFI, Bluetooth, and so on. Most allow for controlled access to local, network, and virtual printers, with read-only support for guest accounts.

While you will likely need enterprise printer management software to integrate this type of access control, the ability to shut off ports, disable access to ports except for approved devices, and to white or blacklist specific users, devices, and groups greatly increases printer endpoint security. 

Access control is important because employees are often your largest security risk. Employees forget security protocols, fall for phishing attacks, and may even attempt a malicious attack. Understanding how to track and manage who is accessing your printers, when, and how 

Security Monitoring 

Automated device monitoring is key to maintaining secure networks. Most offices maintain too many independent devices for manual monitoring to work. Instead, automated tools can track activity, user access, access requests, and suspicious activity.

Many security monitoring tools are included as part of managed print services, and can auto-flag most items for immediate review. Some can also automatically log printers off networks, immediately restart the printer, or otherwise remove device permissions until the printer can be maintained. 

Security monitoring tools vary a great deal depending on what they are intended for, but most offer automated monitoring, regular generated reports, and alerts when issues are flagged. 

Securing Printer Data 

Printers handle large volumes of sensitive and private data, much of which is stored and backed up in printer queues and archives. Much of this data is vulnerable for theft during data transfer to printers. It’s crucial to secure printers from physical access using secure printing and limiting external ports, but also important to implement security measures to prevent theft over the network. 

Here, encryption is one of the most valuable tools you can choose to protect data. Many printers automatically encrypt files for print, but you may need stronger standards or to force encryption standards on your network using print management software. 

It’s also important to occasionally review queues, stored data, and hard drives. Some security experts recommend routinely erasing data on printer hard drives to prevent data theft, however, the necessity of this will heavily depend on how sensitive or valuable transferred data might be. 

Routine Secure Printer Updates and Maintenance 

Printers present huge risks to organizations simply because they often are not updated or maintained. Even when manufacturers release and push patches and software updates, many IT teams quite simply don’t have the time to check for updates and install them. With printers spread across large offices and sometimes in relatively inaccessible areas, doing so can be difficult, costly, and time-consuming.

Implementing remote management software is one tool to ensure printers stay up to date. Here, a managed print service provider will likely offer the best solution, in that remote management is normally standard. Remote management allows you to automatically push updates to devices from a central location, preventing the need to physically update each one. 

Implementing secure maintenance is another important consideration. Many organizations operate with a range of printer repair technicians, who often change each time something goes wrong. Sourcing printer repair from a single managed print services company, implementing security standards to ensure nothing goes wrong during the visit, and creating a printer security policy that includes external visits will work to reduce risks. 

Conduct a Vulnerability Assessment 

Depending on your organization, printer risks might lie in data loss and theft. Printers might also offer easy access to networks and servers. In some cases, your organization will be at risk for both types of attacks. In most cases, you should implement at least moderate endpoint protection for both. 

In most cases, you need basic endpoint protection standards including: 

  • Control physical access to printers 
  • Control physical access to ports and connections 
  • Whitelist approved devices for ports and connections
  • Monitor access and create alerts for suspicious activity 
  • Limit network access 
  • Limit device access such as with local access networks or device whitelisting (or both) 
  • Limit how devices are allowed to connect to networks 
  • Implement firewall and antimalware 

The larger your printer network, the easier it is for print devices and scanners to “slip through the cracks.” A larger network is more difficult to manage and more difficult to keep secure. As a result, many organizations implement managed print services, where an external organization specializing in print security and management handles security instead.

Managed print services typically implement printer security, printer management software, and access management as elements of basic printer integration, meaning your network is much more likely to stay and remain secure. 

Printer security is increasingly an issue for businesses of all sizes, and will continue to be. Organizations are digitizing, printers are getting smarter, and many are vulnerable to attacks. Taking steps to protect endpoint (printers) as well as the network will ensure your organization stays as safe as possible.