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Understanding Printer Vulnerabilities: Common Attack Methods and How to Avoid Them

Multifunction printers (MFPs) play a fundamental role in offices worldwide. However, it is critical to recognize that these devices can pose significant security risks if not correctly protected. With cybercriminals and malicious hackers constantly seeking vulnerabilities to exploit, it is necessary to understand the conventional attack methods they employ and implement robust security measures to mitigate these risks. Below, we address a few common printer vulnerabilities and best practices to identify and avoid them.

Default Passwords: A Weak Spot

One of the most common vulnerabilities is default passwords. Many MFPs come with default usernames and passwords that are easily guessable or available online. If these credentials are not changed, anyone can access the printer's settings, including network configurations and print queues. To avoid this liability, change the default password of your printer to a strong, unique one. Another way to limit access to critical printer functions is by configuring the devices with Active Directory user authentication, making them a trusted network device, and providing much tighter control over which users can access which functions.

Unsecured Network Connections: A Gateway for Attacks

With advanced productivity features, MFPs function as a network terminal, which can make them exposed to a Denial-of-Service (DOS) attack, a phishing attack, malware or other advanced cyberattacks. If the network is not secure, anyone can potentially access its data. Even MFP data stored on a hard disk drive or in memory could be compromised or stolen if not protected. To avoid this vulnerability, always use a secure connection, such as WPA2, to connect your printer to the network. You can also use a firewall to restrict access to the printer or add additional layers of protection to its native security feature, to detect and block malicious software that could be installed or passed through via infected files or internet connections.

Outdated Firmware: A Breach Waiting to Happen

Manufacturers release firmware updates periodically to fix security vulnerabilities and bugs. Neglecting to update MFP firmware exposes devices to a wide array of attacks. To mitigate this threat, it's crucial to regularly check for firmware updates and promptly install them as they become available. Some devices, like the Sharp BP Series MFPs, include firmware attack prevention to automatically check for abnormal firmware and restore its original settings from backup if compromised. Automating firmware updates eliminates manual intervention, allowing your MFP to operate at peak performance.

Unsecured Print Jobs: Protecting Sensitive Data

Secure print release should be standard for printer users, specifically when print jobs contain sensitive data, such as financial and personal information. If print jobs are not secured, anyone on the network can potentially access them. To avoid a “paper left behind” security issue, use secure printing features, such as PIN codes, ID cards or encryption, to authenticate users before printing. You can also use Near Field Communication (NFC) Printing or Synnapx Go to wirelessly pass and print materials from a mobile device to a compatible MFP.

Remote Access: Safeguarding Printer Connectivity

While remote access to printers offers convenience, it can also be a potential security risk if the access points are not appropriately secured. To ensure secure remote access, employ Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or SSL connections when connecting to the printer remotely. You can also leverage your IT team to centrally manage, monitor, and configure an MFP through Remote Device Management or Mobile Device Management. For instance, Sharp Remote Device Management (SRDM) enables admins to take control of system features, create custom security policies for devices on their network and reset security settings to the defined security policy when changes are detected.

The security landscape is vulnerable. Cybercriminals know MFPs are often overlooked and use them as a gateway to your network and confidential data. By understanding common printer vulnerabilities and taking the necessary steps to combat them, you can ensure that your printer is secure and your data is protected. See if you’re best-in-class or falling behind.

For more information, contact or call 423-855-5222.


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