Alert: How hackers use printers to gain access
16 October 2023
EACH OCTOBER, an important conversation takes place on a global scale. It's the time when companies, governmental bodies, and cybersecurity experts unite to discuss a paramount concern: cybersecurity.
As technology advances at a rapid pace, the need to shield ourselves from malicious actors becomes increasingly imperative. However, amidst the discourse, a recurring issue emerges - the vulnerability of printers to cyberattacks. Surprisingly, despite the discussion, numerous companies have neglected the security settings of their printers since their initial setup.
Consider this: in a recent exposure, nearly 28,000 unprotected printers around the world were effortlessly commandeered by cybersecurity professionals. This incident sheds light on the fact that printers serve as the prime targets for hackers seeking to infiltrate corporate and governmental networks. Regrettably, many businesses do not accord printers the same level of security attention as other technological devices, leading to such vulnerabilities.
The pressing question is: why are printers not being treated with the same level of security measures?
While motivations may vary, two primary reasons emerge:
- False Sense of Security: A widespread misconception prevails - that printers are inherently secure due to automatic security updates. However, reality contradicts this notion, and many printers remain susceptible to cyberattacks.
- Underestimation of Data Value: Printers are often regarded as less data-rich than traditional communication tools like phones and laptops. This skewed perception arises from the distinct usage patterns of printers and leads to the undervaluation of their vulnerability.
How can hackers breach printer security?
Hackers can access data through printers using various techniques and vulnerabilities. Printers, despite being seemingly innocuous devices, can be targeted by cybercriminals as a potential entry point into corporate networks:
- Default Credentials and Weak Passwords: Many printers come with default login credentials that are often left unchanged by users. Hackers can easily exploit this by accessing the printer's settings using default usernames and passwords. Similarly, weak passwords used to protect printer administration interfaces can be guessed or cracked.
- Firmware Exploits: Outdated firmware can have security vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit to gain control over the printer. Once compromised, hackers may use the printer as a foothold to access the network.
- Malicious Firmware Updates: Attackers can deliver malicious firmware updates to printers, which, when installed, can grant them unauthorised access. This type of attack can be particularly damaging as it can go unnoticed for a long time.
- Print Job Interception: If print jobs are not encrypted, hackers can intercept sensitive information being printed, including confidential documents, passwords, or financial data.
- Remote Access: Many modern printers have web interfaces accessible over the internet for remote management. If not properly secured, these interfaces can be exploited by hackers to gain control over the printer and potentially the network it's connected to.
- Printer Ports: Some printers have open ports that hackers can use to gain access, particularly if those ports have known vulnerabilities.
- Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) Attacks: If a printer's web interface is vulnerable to cross-site scripting, attackers can inject malicious code that allows them to steal session cookies or deliver malware to users who access the printer's web interface.
- Physical Access: Hackers with physical access to printers can install malicious hardware or tamper with settings to compromise security.
- Print Job Metadata: Even seemingly harmless metadata contained in print jobs, such as printer location, can be exploited by hackers to gather intelligence for future attacks.
- Network Reconnaissance: Hackers can scan networks for printers with weak security, using them as entry points to map the network and identify potential targets.
How can businesses increase printer security?
To prevent hackers from accessing data through printers, it's essential to take proactive security measures:
- Change Default Credentials: Change default usernames and passwords immediately after setting up a printer.
- Update Firmware: Keep printer firmware up to date to patch known vulnerabilities.
- Implement Strong Passwords: Use strong, unique passwords for printer admin interfaces.
- Secure Network Access: Isolate printers from critical network segments and restrict external access.
- Encrypt Print Jobs: Enable encryption for print jobs to prevent interception.
- Network Monitoring: Implement network monitoring to detect any suspicious printer-related activities.
- Regular Security Audits: Conduct regular security assessments to identify and address vulnerabilities.
- Physical Security: Limit physical access to printers and monitor for any tampering.
- Segmentation: Consider network segmentation to limit the potential impact of a compromised printer.
The vulnerability of printers to cyberattacks demands immediate attention. As technology's role in our lives expands, so does the responsibility to safeguard against malicious intent. By taking printer security seriously, proactively taking steps to increase security and collaborating with the right experts, you can shield your company from lurking threats that could compromise your network's integrity. The time has come to bridge the gap between discourse and action, reinforcing your printer security today and in the days ahead.
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