How to close hidden security gaps in printing environments

Security managers must be mindful of so many outside threats that it’s easy to overlook the inside threat from poorly managed multifunction products. Fortunately, the latest generation of devices and the help of expert service providers can successfully address this gap.

Malware, ransomware, social engineering. Diligent IT managers and chief information security officers guard against a wide range of threats to critical corporate data. But there’s one area that often falls under the security radar, and it lies within even the most hardened network perimeters. Inadequately managed multifunction products (MFPs) attached to these networks pose a significant security threat—both from enterprising hackers and from inadvertent data leaks by employees. The reason: Fully securing these devices requires a multifaceted approach that considers more than network configurations and the strength of cloud services.

Fortunately, a combination of the latest technology, managed services, and best practices can plug these security holes without impairing the productivity of end users. Here are the must-haves to look for when evaluating MFPs and analyzing the security expertise of potential managed services providers.

Select devices engineered for security

Data security should be built into MFPs from the start rather than enabled with add-on hardware and software. How can you determine this? Start by focusing on a unit’s hard drive, which is “ground zero” for data protection. The drive should support federal government-backed data encryption protocols for data in transit and at rest. Examples include the Advanced Encryption Standard used for the government’s classified documents.

Additionally, the MFPs should include software for wiping data from hard drives to ensure that sensitive information doesn’t linger after print jobs are completed or when the unit is decommissioned. Just having data wiping is not enough because if a job is interrupted or the disk cleaning is disabled, the data is still at risk.

Encryption protocols protect data when it’s at rest or traveling across the network, but it’s vulnerable at other times as well. Don’t overlook risks related to output trays. If an MFP processes a print job before the sender finds time to retrieve it, financial data, personnel files, and other sensitive information are exposed to any unauthorized person who happens by. To prevent this, follow-me printing options in MFP software keep the print job on hold centrally until the rightful recipient scans an ID badge, enters a password, or does both, depending on corporate policy. 

Authorizations can be most effectively managed by administrators when they’re centrally stored in the company’s Active Directory rather than on the device itself. Care should be taken to secure connections between the enterprise’s Active Directory and badge readers on the devices. Direct connections that encrypt communications are the most secure way to enable these transmissions. Additionally, by managing the print documents centrally, security is enhanced because information is not stored on device hard drives.

To further bolster security, IT managers may consider sending files directly from PCs to printers without pooling jobs on print servers. This is important because many organizations don’t encrypt files waiting on print servers, potentially making the information accessible to hackers. Encrypting pooled files is an option; however, this may limit an organization’s ability to enable follow-me printing. Thus, decision makers must balance the various alternatives based on the criticality of the data being processed and productivity considerations to ensure that each solution meets their specific requirements.

MFPs may fail to comply with corporate security standards when installers don’t adjust the default settings of the units. Thus, the configuration process should include settings that determine whether to limit scan-to-email, faxing, printing, and copying activities for certain workgroups and individuals.

For devices that handle particularly sensitive information, such as medical records and Social Security numbers, consider data loss prevention (DLP) utilities that can alert administrators and even block print jobs that include such data.

Finally, another configuration consideration is the role of end users associated with individual devices. For example, not every unit will process files that warrant DLP or two-factor authentication. Forcing people to follow unnecessarily tough protocols invites them to circumvent established procedures in the name of productivity, which then creates additional vulnerabilities.

Keep security in mind when evaluating managed print providers

Providers of managed print services perform an important role for large organizations. They routinely service and maintain each unit to avoid mechanical problems and incidents where productivity comes to a standstill because a printer ran out of toner or paper. These specialists can also maintain proper security settings and install software patches to keep hackers from exploiting known bugs. The key is determining which providers have the security depth necessary to protect corporate information.

Since service providers perform many of the management tasks remotely, get details about how a candidate’s network connects to the printer fleet. Analyze how these links are secured, including whether the provider uses dedicated tunnels and VPNs to communicate with devices.

And because each workgroup requires tailored device settings—neither too loose nor too onerous—make sure that a potential service provider doesn’t offer one-size-fits-all security solutions.

Close the gap

Security managers must be mindful of so many outside threats that it’s easy to overlook the inside threat from poorly managed MFPs. Fortunately, the latest generation of devices and the help of expert service providers can successfully address this gap. The outside world may not become a safer place, but at least CIOs and chief information security officers won’t have to lie awake at night worrying about their MFPs. 

Eric McCann

Eric McCann
Manager, Product Marketing

Eric McCann is manager, software product marketing in Global Marketing, focused on Lexmark’s Smart MFP software offerings worldwide with key emphasis on Firmware, Security, and Mobility.

Eric joined Lexmark in 2008 and has held various positions in R&D before joining Marketing.  


Security managers must be mindful of so many outside threats that it’s easy to overlook the inside threat from poorly managed MFPs.


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