How to Safeguard Your Printing Environment

An organization's network of printing and copying devices is often a hidden security risk, a vulnerability that is too often overlooked by organizations. Here, Knowledge Center contributor Michael Howard shares three steps organizations can take to safeguard information in their entire printing environment, including documents, printing devices and network.


Data breaches are big business of the worst kind but, despite their costliness, such breaches are all too common. We have all heard the horror stories of hackers accessing secured networks or of thieves stealing laptops to gain unauthorized access to confidential information, sensitive intellectual property (IP) and financial data-viable threats that every IT manager works diligently to defend against.

However, there are often hidden security risks that organizations need to address. One vulnerability that is too often overlooked-and may be leaving you susceptible to attack-is your network of printing and copying devices.

Printers have evolved from simple output devices to multifunction, Internet-connected tools with robust capabilities. They can pose similar security risks as personal computers. Today's multifunction printers (MFPs) serve as an on-ramp and off-ramp to the network, so security practices need to extend beyond just the device to address the document and the network.

Here are three steps that you can follow to better secure your documents, printing devices and network:

Step No. 1: Secure the document

The first area of focus should be securing the document. As we all know, oftentimes when employees print and retrieve a document, there are several in the tray-many of which were printed hours before and contain highly confidential information. How many documents are sitting at your printer right now? This is the most common breach of confidential information.

For example, at a major financial institution, initial public offering (IPO) documents were laying in the output tray of an unsecured printer where the documents were available to junior traders and investors. Unauthorized sharing of the information resulted in $7 million dollars of profit loss, unspecified fines to the institution and dismissal of analysts at the firm.

This type of exposure is easy to avoid. The best solution is employee verification. When an employee sends a document to the printer, the job is not immediately printed. Instead, it is stored on the printer or an external server until the employee is verified. Verification can be done through a variety of solutions such as proximity ID badges, smart cards and even biometrics (including fingerprint scanning). Once an employee is verified, the document is printed and never needs to sit unattended in an output tray. It is important to check with your vendor as some of these security solutions are provided as standard features and simply need to be enabled.