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Perimeter

5/7/2010
01:20 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Multifunction Print Devices Under Fire

There's nothing like a news story on a major television network (or talk radio) to get your boss asking you odd questions. Ever had that happen? The recent CBS story on digital photocopiers sure generated a buzz and some extra work for IT professionals across all industries.

There's nothing like a news story on a major television network (or talk radio) to get your boss asking you odd questions. Ever had that happen? The recent CBS story on digital photocopiers sure generated a buzz and some extra work for IT professionals across all industries.Even today, I saw a message on Twitter about someone having to jump-start a project to investigate printers and photocopiers on the network that could be accessible and storing personal information. The reason for the project? The CBS news story "Digital Photocopiers Loaded With Secrets" (video).

NEWS FLASH: Digital photocopiers and multifunction devices have had hard drives for many years now, and they store the documents you scan, fax, and print!

It's shocking news, right? Not really. It's just something that laymen have been blissfully ignorant about for a long time. Getting at the data isn't hard. In the CBS news report, some of it was accessible from the printer's controls allowing stored documents to be printed. It was also demonstrated how the hard drives could be removed from the printer and the documents recovered "using a forensic software program available for free on the Internet."

It wasn't clear what the free forensic tool was, but the screen visible in the video did look like the person was using Linux to browse recovered files. The file names were also numbered, so it was likely some file-carving tool, like Foremost or scalpel, that carves files from a drive based on known file header and/or footers.

Those are both excellent tools and work quite well. If you decide to try this out for yourself, then be prepared that you'll likely get a LOT of files, many of which will be corrupted, but also many that will be fully readable in their native file viewers.

One thing I found interesting was that the gentlemen doing the research provides a service that basically takes your old photocopier, reports on sensitive data stored on the device, wipes the hard drive to NIST standards, has the drive destroyed, replaces the old drive with a new one, and then performs a factory reset of the photocopier.

That's a sound process, but if you only have a handful of photocopiers, then you could manage doing it in-house following a similar process at no cost. First, remove the hard drive and place it into a computer that you can boot with a CD or floppy. Then, boot the computer with Darik's Boot and Nuke (DBAN) or a DOS disk with Secure Erase, and wipe the drive. Once the wiping is done, pop the disk back in and perform a factory reset to clear any configuration data that might contain things like network information.

There's a small gotcha with the in-house method, and that's making sure the hard drive is formatted and working properly when you put it back in. The wiping process will completely destroy the existing file system and any data on the drive. I've heard that some manufacturers use proprietary file systems, so formatting the drive to FAT32 may render the copier inoperable. Use caution and be aware of any leasing terms that may forbid these actions.

My hope is there will be enough pressure on manufacturers to provide data-wiping features by default and not as an extra $500 add-on as mentioned in the CBS story. We've seen this happen with wireless manufacturers that used to ship access point and routers insecure by default. Now it's hard to find one that doesn't step you through encrypting with WPA/WPA2 by default. Maybe digital photocopiers and multifunction devices are next?

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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