6 Steps to Reduce Printer Security Risks and Data Leakage

There are no two ways about it: printers are vulnerable to data leakage. Day in, day out these vital devices perform tasks involving sensitive data within key workflows. But, just like all other endpoints, reducing the risk of sensitive data being leaked is a challenge. Added to this, some organizations are unaware of just how much of a risk unsecured and poorly managed printer infrastructure can pose.

Printing poses many security risks
Have you ever thought about print related security risks?

2019 Report Exposes Printer Security Risk to Companies

Amongst all the different weak spots that can arise, you might be surprised to learn just how commonplace printer security risks are and how much financial damage they can be responsible for.

In a 2019 report covering both European and US businesses, the benefits of secure printing were demonstrated clearly. These are some of the key takeaways:

  • It reveals that almost 11% of all security incidents are print-related. That averages at 9 security breaches every year. And of those, 59% of them involved data leakage.
  • While malware tends to worry most, or that sensitive files stored on printers may be accessed (yes that really is a printer security risk) the majority of incidents were caused by the mismanagement or mishandling of print related data internally: the so-called human factor. These unintentional actions of internal users were the highest cause of incidents, sitting at 32%.
  • Only 27% of businesses were graded as “print security leaders”, while 17% were classified as laggards. Unsurprisingly, 77% of those asked said they were planning to increase print security spending in the future.

The findings create an alarming picture of businesses’ susceptibility to print-related data leaks, either due to a lack of understanding of the security vulnerabilities in printing infrastructure or a failure to invest in suitable security measures.

Why Data Leaks are Becoming More Damaging

Some might be wondering, “but would a print-related data leak really be so damaging to my business?”. It’s a fair question – not every business may consider their industry-specific data to be particularly sensitive (these 5 industry areas are more at risk than others).

According to the above report, each data leak costs companies on average 348.000€ / $391.900 per year. Another report placed the global average cost much higher at $3.86 million. And if the internal impact on revenue wasn’t enough of incentive to address printer security risks, data breaches are now treated much more harshly by independent authorities in comparison to several years ago.

To help you address these risks, here are some tips for establishing secure printing and reducing printer security vulnerabilities.

Quick Starter-Guide for a More Secure Printing Environment

  1. Make sure that firmware for MFP/ standard printers are regularly kept up to date and monitored.

  2. All printing data transmitted throughout the network needs to be encrypted. You can start by implementing Windows SMB 3.0 or higher for the printing server and all print jobs. By making sure that this is activated, you can ensure that all print jobs will be encrypted over the network.

  3. Data that is transmitted between the central location and the printer needs to the encrypted in the same fashion. However, in order to do this a third-party solution is required as there is currently no simple “checkbox” for the feature in Windows. First, data is encrypted once processed by the printer driver. An application is installed on the printer (or by external hardware linked to the printer) that then decrypts the data once again.

  4. Once adequate measures have been taken to secure printing data transmission, attention can turn addressing the “human factor”. As the data shows, reducing this risk is key to minimizing the net printer security risk in general. Take a moment to think about the organizational setup: How are printers delegated to employees? Is direct-IP printing in use? If so, take care to not allow all employees to print anywhere via direct-IP printing as monitoring will be less effective. There are also several third-party solutions available that can further improve security with direct-IP printing.

  5. Now to the documents: Printed documents should be prevented from being left unsecured on printer trays, as the entire life cycle of printing documents must be protected. 60% of businesses use pull printing (follow me printing) as a highly effective way to authenticate print jobs, with any kind of smart card, at the printer. This also stops a data leak occurring should a document be sent to the wrong printer.

  6. Printers should also be assigned to users in an effective and accurate manner. Pull printing, as mentioned above, is a good solution for this, but there are also other options. Companies can introduce a solution called a “self-service portal” so users can pick their own printer based on their permissions.

Although barely scratching the surface, these tips will help you manage and organize the printer landscape, making data leakage less likely to happen.

Just a Few Steps Needed to Improve Printer Security

Essentially, these two key changes to the printing infrastructure – full encryption of print data and a secure print-delivery solution like pull printing – are two relatively painless ways to reduce printer security risks.

If you are interested in how ThinPrint can help you create a water-tight printing infrastructure in your business, contact us or read our white paper about secure network printing.

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Northcott Rosanna