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8/26/2009
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New IEEE Printer Security Standard Calls For Encryption, Authentication, Electronic 'Shredding'

Printers finally getting security attention, but locking them down depends on actual implementation, configuration, experts say

Networked printers are the oft-forgotten weak links in an organization, but a new IEEE security standard for the devices could help change that.

The so-called 2600 Profile, which includes specifications for building secure printers and a checklist for evaluating printer security using ISO's Common Criteria framework for evaluating security requirements, calls for vendors to build printers that include password protection, hard drive encryption, electronic "shredding," security logs, and separate connections for fax and network communications.

While security researchers during the past few years have poked major holes in networked printers, these devices have been a low priority for most organizations already inundated with locking down imminent threats to their servers, client machines, and Web applications. Many never even bothered to update their printer software.

"The device sitting in the hallway often gets overlooked, but printers have computers and disks in them, and they are in the network," says Larry Kovnat, product security manager for Xerox, which helped spearhead the printer security standards initiative. "You've got to treat them like another computer node and make sure you put the right controls on them."

Xerox was a major player in the IEEE Hardcopy Device and System Security Working Group that authored the 2600 Profile requirements, which includes a Common Criteria checklist for laboratories evaluating printer security. "It includes strong use of encryption for transmission, data in motion, data on network data stored on disk/reprint, or secure printing," Kovnat says. "It calls for an audit log with authentication services: Who's logged into the device, and what have they done? It tracks their activities. And it includes an overwrite function that gets rid of residual data on the disk."

Kovnat says his company also spearheaded the requirement for separating the fax and computer networks in a printer. "We were very concerned about leakage between the fax network and the computer network," he says.

Aaron Weaver, a security researcher who developed a proof-of-concept for a cross-site printing attack that remotely hacks printers using JavaScript, says a security standard for printers is a good first step toward locking down these neglected devices. "It's great that they are moving to some sort of security standard to build printers to," Weaver says. "But there's a long way to go in educating the end user. A lot of people don't even know there's a hard drive in printers."

Weaver's printer hack demonstrated how an attacker could connect to a victim's home printer after infecting him via malicious JavaScript on a Website. The attacker could spam the user's printer, for instance, or even take full control of the printer, all using an HTTP POST command.

Weaver warns that the new printer standard's alignment with Common Criteria doesn't guarantee security, either. "It doesn't mean that [the printer] is not going to have vulnerabilities, or that there's not going to be some sort of hole in the products," he says.

Then there are the social engineering risks to these devices. "How easy is it for me to go into an organization and just pull out and swap the hard drive? I can say, 'I'm the printer repairman,'" Weaver says. But if the hard drive were encrypted according to the 2600 Profile standards, then the data would be useless to the thief, he adds.

Even so, no major breaches via a printer have been publicly reported, experts say. But it's only a matter of time, they say.

Xerox and other printer vendors, meanwhile, during the past two years have begun adding their own security features to their devices. Xerox, for example, has offered hard drive encryption and electronic overwriting or "shredding" in some of its printer models. And printer manufacturer Sharp last year added Solidcore Systems' change control software to its server-powered MX Series printers and multifunction peripherals that run Windows XP Embedded. The change-control software helps stop unauthorized code from running on Sharp devices and prevents unauthorized configuration changes. Sharp previously had used antivirus to check for threats, but the scans and their updates sapped performance and couldn't detect zero-day attacks.

Xerox's Kovnat says the goal of the new standards is to raise the bar for printer security. "Security in printers has been inconsistent. This sets the bar at a high level for the minimum security," he says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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