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Making printers part of your security strategy

Given the proliferation of printers in banking – a large institution may have tens of thousands in facilities spread across the country – printer management needs to play a critical role in the ongoing war against hackers.

This issue recently came to the forefront in a hack at Bangladesh Bank that resulted in the loss of $81 million. Early one morning, a director at Bangladesh Bank noticed that no transaction receipts had printed overnight, an abnormality that prompted the bank to review recent transactions. The incident resulted in the frantic issuing of stop payments at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and several central banks worldwide. Had the printer not flagged the issue, the $81 million heist could have exceeded $1 billion.

While a printer was only indirectly involved in this bank theft, other recent hacks, including one that resulted in the mass printing of racist fliers at several U.S. universities, is directing attention to this often-overlooked area of vulnerability. When Information Technology (IT) security professionals design security strategies, printers aren’t usually high on the priority list. However, office printers and multifunction devices are typically network-connected and many people don’t realize that they ship unsecured by default. These devices listen on all ports and support many protocols, which makes them easy to install on a network but also introduces potential security problems if they are not properly locked down.

Financial institutions need to consider the security of their printers with the same care they give to network, data and transaction security. For starters, here’s what IT administrators can do to help secure their print infrastructure:

Secure all network print devices. Multifunction devices typically have an internal hard drive, providing a browser-based interface for device configuration and control. Be sure to apply a strong administrator password and never use a default password for any device connected to your network.

Deploy secure pull printing technology. It’s important to add a layer of security to your printing workflows. When employing a secure pull printing solution, employees must be physically present at a device with an ID or access card before a document can be printed. This simple workflow protects confidentiality and ensures that employees at all levels can access only the documents they own and are accountable for.

It’s common in some business environments to see unclaimed documents pile up on printers. In a financial institution, these documents likely contain private and confidential information. Secure pull printing solutions eliminate this problem and allow organizations to track who printed what and when.

I am often asked, “Should we secure all devices? We have a lot of them.” Leaving some devices unsecured might encourage employees to use those devices instead of those that are protected. By securing every device, you ensure that all printed content is in the proper hands. Confidentiality is ensured, audit trails are created, and closed-loop reporting is established.

Set policies for printer updates. In the same way that our computers are regularly updated with security patches, multifunction printers often have firmware updates. Keep these up-to-date by implementing procedures to check for updates, test them and apply them in a timely manner.

Also, when a printer is serviced and reset, it might revert to factory defaults. It’s important to include, in your policy, the reapplication of security controls to any reset devices.

When it comes time to replace or retire your multifunction devices, it’s essential to erase the data on their hard drives. Otherwise, any documents left in device storage can become accessible. Verify that your organization has a specific hard drive erasure or disposal procedure; some financial services organizations require hard drives to be physically removed and erased as part of their device retirement process.

Printers are not solitary devices that carry out a single function; they are powerful computers that require the same level of security attention as other network devices. As your organization refines its security strategy to stay current with evolving threats, make certain that securing your print environment is a priority.

Mr. O’Leary is vice president-Enterprise Accounts at Rochester, N.Y.-based Pharos Systems International. He can be reached on Twitter at @PharosSystems.