Think your printer isn't susceptible to security breaches? Think again, argues Tom Coley.
Printers aren't always the first device people think about when it comes to security protection – desktops, tablets and mobiles are more of a target, right?
Well, you'd be surprised, making it important that you take simple steps to protect the security of your printing set-up, whether you're a small business or a home user.
We take a look through some of the possible threats and what you can do to combat the problem and protect your private data.
Did you know that your printer might, just like a computer, have a hard drive? Yep, it could, and it could have lots of sensitive information stored on it.
While it's unusual for a simple budget printer to have an internal storage system, it's possible that a sophisticated multifunction might – and here we have a potential security leak.
Last year, a news team in the US bought some used printers and reported all kinds of personal data stored on them.
The more advanced machines out there use internal hard drives to store data, meaning they could hold details of your print jobs, scans and faxes.
While this in itself might seem insignificant, if you throw out your printer, sell it or, unfortunately, it gets stolen, you could be unwittingly handing its new owner a wealth of personal information.
Now, if you're just printing out birthday invitations then you might not be too concerned, but what if you use your printer to produce your tax return, or write personal letters you wouldn't want anyone else to see?
In businesses, the problem can be exacerbated, especially if a company uses a network to host its bank of printers.
Here, if your network is left 'open', it could be open season for anyone wishing to gain access to your infrastructure. And if you've just been printing your annual accounts, that's unlikely to make you very happy.
There are other threats, too. The emergence of the cloud has given rise to a number of apps that allow users to send documents to print via the internet. While this is to be welcomed – it means you can print from more or less anywhere from a variety of devices – it means your printer is accessible from the internet by, potentially, anyone.
So what can you do?
Because the issue of printer security is something of a neglected topic, it's not surprising many printer users simply don't think about the security of their device.
And if you don't print 'sensitive' documents, then you might not need to give it any more thought.
However, if you're interested in protecting your printer, take a look at the following tips:
First thing to do is find out if your printer actually has a hard drive. This can be a little like looking for a needle in a haystack though – the best way is to ask the printer maker. Failing that, your printer's manual might be able to tell you.
If it does, there are a number of things you can do to make your device secure. If the hard drive is removable, you can simply open up the printer and take it out. If selling the printer, you could simply destroy the hard drive.
Alternatively, and if you've got a bit of technical nous, you could connect the hard drive to a PC and remove any files. This is a good idea if you want to 'clean' your printer on a regular basis.
When it comes to networks, one simple way to protect these is to implement a password system. This would make your infrastructure much harder to crack.
Importantly, ensure you change the password on a regular basis – as you're supposed to with your email accounts. (No, we don't either...)
While it might seem like all this is a bit too much like hard work, if you print sensitive documents often it simply makes good sense to ensure the information is protected.
You don't want every man and his dog knowing about your private life - so why let them.