Remote Printing, Even at Home, Is Far from Secure
As more computing is done in the cloud, it follows that more people will cut the cord with their printers and rely instead on remote printing: sending files to a printer that isn’t physically connected to their computers.
Remote printing isn’t a new concept; businesses have been doing it for years by setting up company computers that can send messages to a centralized printer. But the technology is beginning to go mainstream, allowing families to send files wirelessly to a single printer in their homes.
It may be easy and convenient, but remote printing comes with security risks. Not every document should be sent to a remote printer, warns Randy Abrams, director of technical education at ESET, an antivirus and malware protection developer.
“Should you send sensitive documents to a remote printer? The short answer is no,” Abrams said. “In reality, the answer depends upon a number of factors. Security is fundamentally risk management. If printing the document remotely is the difference between closing a lucrative contract or losing it, then you probably were not properly prepared, but it may be an acceptable risk.”
Abrams pointed out some of the risks involved in sending sensitive documents remotely:
Physical theft or snooping: If the printer is not in a highly secure location, it is possible for unauthorized people to view the document or even take it.
Data interception: If you are using an unsecure Wi-Fi connection, then simply sending the document may compromise the privacy of the contents.
Reliability: If the printer jams or has other technical problems, you might not have your document waiting for you when you got there. In other words, you have taken a risk that resulted in no reward.
While such risks may seem obvious in the workplace, they are also present at home. Sending sensitive documents to the home printer may seem safe enough, but if the entire family shares the printer, do you want your teenager or his or her friends to pick up your bank statement by accident?
Abrams also recommends considering the security surrounding the network setup.
“Physical security is important,” he said. “Some networked printers store documents on an internal hard drive. If a person gets access to the hard drive, they may be able to retrieve sensitive information. If a networked printer with a hard drive is being used for sensitive data, then it may make sense to keep it in a locked room and secured to the floor or wall.”
There are a variety of means to connect a printer to a network, he added. The nature of the data being printed will determine what precautions are needed.
”It is important to look at your printer’s documentation and understand what security features it may have built in,” Abrams said.
Often security features are disabled by default.
“If you are in an environment that handles sensitive information, you need to look into the security features available before you buy and select a model that affords proper security measures,” Abrams said.
“These can include features such as requiring a password at the printer in order to print. This feature will prevent people from seeing your documents between the time that you hit ‘print’ and the time you go to retrieve your documents.”