Privacy Advisor

Security Spotlight: Multifunction devices and the forgotten enterprise security risk

November 1, 2012

Amorosano_DennisBy Dennis B. Amorosano

In today’s wired workplace, the traditional office copier has evolved into a highly intelligent, multifunction device containing powerful software and storage capabilities where information is written, stored and accessed. However, this technology has also opened a potentially dangerous hole in IT security.

Despite the integral position that multifunction printers (MFP) have within a network, business owners tend to overlook the security risks inherent in these devices and focus on protecting computer-based data. Executives must recognize that the MFP of today is a network-centric device that requires careful consideration and incorporation into a holistic information security plan. Printers and MFPs have hard drives that store data similar to those on computers and mobile devices, which means that residual data remains on a printing device after recent tasks have been completed. Because data breaches can originate with information stored on a networked device or internal hard drive, much of the security measures are placed on minimizing external access to sensitive information, with little consideration to safeguarding internal weaknesses. According to the 2010 Data Breach Investigations Report, 36 percent of attacks originate from end-user devices, meaning the devices used by employees are the first point of entry for potential hackers, including printers and MFPs.

Whether an organization needs to meet the strict security demands of the private sector or comply with the stringent privacy and auditing regulations of the public sector, most print providers offer features that help form a comprehensive security solution that delivers higher levels of data protection.

So why is it that customers and corporate security professionals, in general, continue to take a minimal approach to securing their office MFPs? Today’s data—sales and anecdotal—tells a sobering tale: Customer security professionals are content with securing the hard disk drives of their office products but not much else.

While securing the hard disk drive of an MFP with some overwrite protection technology is a good first step in terms of security, it is just one action of many that should be considered if one is to seriously consider protecting sensitive data.

What most security professionals fail to consider is that while data at rest is a concern, data being actively processed is of greater significance, particularly data that is converted to paper-based form and capable of walking out the front door.

Consider the financial services company that has access to significant volumes of personally identifiable and confidential information. While your financial institution may have excellent safeguards in place to prevent unauthorized access to the systems housing this data, what about the countless employees who have the ability to see this data and print it on demand? What happens to this paper? How is it secured? What’s to prevent it from walking out the door? Can the processing of this information be flagged for review or even stopped?

While it is easy to see why we might want to safeguard financial information, as we dig into other types of corporate information it becomes readily apparent that much of an organization’s assets—other than people—are embodied in the information found within the organization itself. Think about the things that your own company would value: product launch plans, patent filings, product development plans, corporate strategy documents, etc. Is your organization implementing a holistic security plan to ensure that these and other types of information aren’t being processed, copied, printed, faxed or scanned in an insecure manner? 

If you can answer yes to this question, congratulations—you’re one of the few. Most companies however can’t answer this question in a manner that would permit their chief security officer to sleep well. Worse yet, most organizations don’t have a plan.

The securing of MFP and printer technology can be a complex topic of which tackling the internal hard drive is just a first step.

Dennis Amorosano is currently senior director, solutions marketing. During nearly 20 years at Canon, Amorosano has held numerous positions across Imaging Solutions Group business units. His current capacity includes the management of Canon’s initiatives in the areas of industry, environmental, security, web and customer database marketing. Amorosano is a frequent contributor to various publications, offering insight on industry trends and the role of networked digital technology with respect to workflow and information management.