November 22, 2010

Is Your Multifunction Printer Spilling Your Secrets?

By Sean Doherty

DoubleSided: Copy and Print Jobs Stored on Your MFP Could Become Public

DBZ-92-DS-500

Recently the press had a field day with a CBS news report about how digital copiers can become a repository of your deepest and darkest secrets. The story, which is still reverberating in the legal sector, pointed out that digital copiers contain hard drives that store an image of every document copied, scanned, printed or emailed through the machine.

Just the Facts, Please

It's true, many multifunction printers operating in large enterprises do feature hard drives, as do many consumer multifunction printers. But even if your printer does include a hard drive, it's not storing information the same way the hard drive on your computer is storing and capturing data.

When an MFP receives print requests, it stores those requests as print jobs in a queue. If the number and size of the jobs is more than the amount of physical RAM in the printer, the printer will temporarily store the jobs on an internal hard disk before returning them to RAM and printing them. (If the printer does not feature a hard disk, it will store all print jobs in RAM).

If your printer does store print jobs temporarily, it converts them into bitmap images in a job control language that the printer can understand. This language is obscure enough that not just any Joe Schmo can open up the files and print the images easily. What's more, depending on how busy the printer is, it might constantly overwrite jobs stored on the disk with new copy, scan and print jobs in the cue.

If you elect to send secure prints to the printer and pick them up when you enter a code at the console, then your printer might store jobs on the disk until you complete the task. However, you can elect to set up private boxes for users who regularly print, scan, and fax jobs containing secrets you'd rather not make public. Note that if your MFP does not feature a hard disk, it will not offer you this capability.

Tips for Printer Security

First, don't scrimp on the amount of RAM for any printer used by more than one employee. Plan on purchasing the maximum amount of RAM supported by the printer. Doing so ensures your printer will print faster and will not store print jobs on the hard disk to await printing. Next, do not enable the secure print feature. And lastly, do not set up public and private boxes for users to store jobs.

If you want to use the features associated with an internal hard drive, look into your printer's security measures. Some manufacturers, like Canon and Ricoh, include add-on security features in their printers that can encrypt the hard drive, automatically overwrite data on it, and wipe it clean when the printer reaches its end of life in your organization. Other manufacturers, like Konica Minolta, include those features along with others, like a hard drive lock password and automatic deletion of jobs stored in user boxes.

For real security-minded (read: paranoid) professionals, don't waste time overwriting the data on a printer that has reached its end of life. Simply remove the drive and destroy the disk platter. Doing so will not diminish the resale value of the printer.

And finally, if you are worried that your printer's hard drive may contain information that you might need to produce in the event of future litigation, rest easy. To date, no court has targeted multifunction printers with hard drives in its data retention policy. Sorry CBS.

About DoubleSided
We all have our idiosyncrasies. So do printers as it turns out. In our DoubleSided feature, we explore the lighter side of printers as well as the esoteric and bizarre. We also peer into the future of printing. From fabbers to printing on toast, you'll find it all here.

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