Vulnerabilities in office printers and other network-connected devices accessed by home-based workers have assumed greater significance in recent months with the dramatic increase in remote work triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Numerous studies in recent years — including one by the NCC Group last year and another by CyberNews in August involving the hijacking of some 26,000 devices worldwide — have highlighted the risk to organizations from having vulnerable printers connected to the network. The surge in teleworking from the coronavirus outbreak has exacerbated those concerns significantly.
In response, HP — one of world's largest printer makers — this week launched a new bug bounty program designed to uncover potential vulnerabilities in printers featuring what the company describes as its office-class print cartridges.
Under the program, HP has invited a small group of white-hat hackers with specific expertise in print technology to take a crack at its printer cartridge technology. Each hacker will receive an agreed-upon base fee plus $10,000 for every vulnerability they discover. Crowdsourced vulnerability coordination firm BugCrowd will manage HP's new bug bounty program.
"Networked printers are a commonly overlooked endpoint on a network," says Shivaun Albright, chief technologist of printing security at HP. "Without proper security protocols enabled, these endpoints may become a target for cyberattacks."
Albright says that over the past few years there has been an increase in attacks targeting embedded system technologies that are often shared across connected devices. "The risk includes PC firmware as well as printer firmware," Albright says.
HP's new bug bounty program is the second on printer security that it launched in recent years. In July 2018, the company launched a program similar to the one disclosed this week except that was focused on potential vulnerabilities in the printer itself. The 2018 bug-discovery initiative resulted in nearly 40 vulnerabilities being uncovered and reported to HP.
The new bug bounty program expands on the older effort by focusing on potential security issues in the interfaces between the printer and its ink and toner cartridges, Albright says. Specifically, the program covers vulnerabilities in HP's OfficeJet Pro, LaserJet Pro, LaserJet Enterprise/Managed, Pagewide Pro, and Pagewide Enterprise/Managed.
The HP office cartridges in these systems, like most modern ink and toner cartridges, feature embedded microcontroller chips with code that enables them to communicate with the printer for various tasks.
Vulnerabilities in these cartridges can give attackers a way to potentially take control of the printer and use it as a jumping point into the network to which the device is connected. "Microcontroller chips on cartridges offer significant customer benefits when it comes to supply management, authentication and compatibility," Albright says. "But they can also be an ingress point for attacks," she notes.
As one potential attack vector, she points to how reprogrammable microcontrollers on printer cartridges can be updated to add new firmware with malicious code. "These cartridges could then be inserted into the imitation-cartridge supply chain to be delivered to an unsuspecting target."
In addition to supply chain-borne risks, printers can be attacked in other ways. A recent report by Moor Insights & Strategy described typical printer attacks resulting from exploits involving old firmware. Many attacks allow threat actors to do little more than control or disrupt printer operations. But more serious attacks, including those that exploit buffer overflows, can result in sensitive data getting exposed, according to the analyst firm.Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio