Printer Security Issues

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Listen to the column Printer Security Issues, or visit our Podcast Center to hear more by James Gaskin.

I hoped the "hacked zombie printer" stories were just security company scare tactics. When someone asked me about securing printers during an Altiris ManageFusion security panel, I questioned it and said no one I knew has suffered from a hacked printer.

Unfortunately, printer hacks do exist, according to Jesper Jurcenoks, CTO of NetVigilance. He was a panelist on my Security 2008: What You Need Now panel at the ITEC show in Chicago, and he has first hand experience.

Since NetVigilance sells vulnerability assessment software and services, Jurcenoks sees every hole and missed patch on all IP-addressable network devices. The printer hacks he mentioned affect HP LaserJet 5 printers running Java software.

"Some people feel there's no danger because each Java application runs in its own sandbox," said Jurcenoks. "But code running there bypasses your firewall and can infect other systems on your network."

Just like a smart biological virus, a printer virus will infect other systems but not weaken the host. After all, the more impact a virus has on its host, the sooner it gets discovered. This applies to biological and computer viruses.

Jurcenoks says printers with hard drives to hold front cache content have been hacked to stash illegal content. Have hard drive, will worry. During the Altiris panel, a reminder about hard drives in printers scheduled for decommissioning caused some worried looks. Yes, if you donate a used printer, the contents of the printer hard drive become the property of the new owner. Let's hope none of your company secrets, or data falling under federal or state regulations, remain on the printer hard drive.

"In security, you get paranoid," admitted Jurcenoks. Yes, paranoia comes with the job description. The only security experts sleeping well are the incompetent security experts.

As the joke goes, you're not paranoid if people are out to get you. NetVigilance tests for more than 3,000 exploits, including those against network printers. Yet Jurcenoks admits there are over 13,000 known exploits, and surely some of them also target printers.

All this is enough to make you wish for that paperless office they promised years ago, isn't it? And we haven't even talked about disk caches in fax servers, full of incoming and outgoing faxes.

Print up a new security plan including printers. Then reformat and overwrite the printer hard drive - seven times.

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