Hackers can take over your printer: Here’s how to stop them

by Radu Tyrsina
Radu Tyrsina
Radu Tyrsina
CEO & Founder
Radu Tyrsina has been a Windows fan ever since he got his first PC, a Pentium III (a monster at that time). For most of the kids of... read more
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The other day, I wrote about IoT and how we are at risk if we do not keep ourselves safe from the Internet of Things. In it, I said that people should think of anything connected to the internet in the same way as we think of a computer. Finally, I said that if you can connect a wireless device to your computer, and someone can hack that device, then that same person can hack your computer as well. And that is why I would like to talk today about why updating your printer is so important.

In the previous article, I think I gave the example of a digital camera. As I said, in this article, I want to talk about printers because they are by far one of the biggest threats to a company or home computer network. Read on and I’ll explain in more detail.

Why updating your printer is not an optional extra

For years and years, printers were connected to computers in the same way that keyboards and mouses were, a USB cable ran from the side of the printer to the back of a computer and that was that. Like the keyboard and mouse, there were no wireless connections, and everyone was more or less safe.

Updating your printer

Everything started to disconnect

Then things started to become disconnected. You no longer needed to plug keyboards and mouses in with a USB cable. The USB still existed, of course, but it was in the form off a wireless connection. The only place where you are like to still be given a mouse or keyboard with a cable is in a really bad workplace, like a school.

Printers being disconnected from computers was the natural next step and so it happened. The problem is that many companies and homes look at a printer in the same way as a mouse or keyboard. Something that is connected to the internet but ‘not really’. This means that while network computers will almost certainly be updated on a regular basis, printers will not as they are not seen as a threat in the same way as a virus infecting a computer directly.

How one hacker infected 150,000 printers

You can read an interesting report on how one white-hat hacker managed to affect 150,000 printers. He got all the printers to print pictures of robots with text saying they (the printers) were now part of a botnet. It wasn’t true, but it was quite amusing. True, this was last year but I bet if you ask your company’s IT department if they have updated all the company’s printers in the past month, most will say no.

And if you don’t think this is true, Britain’s NHS was almost brought to a standstill over Wannacry last year because no one had bothered to update the computers (not the printers) with a critical update that was issued by Microsoft two MONTHS before the ransomeware attack.

Wrapping it all up

The lesson here is obvious. One printer may well be connected to hundreds of computers. Companies must make sure that their printers are up-to-date. This is not a difficult job or even particularly time-consuming, but it is extremely important. This goes for people who have printers wirelessly connected at home as well. You are not immune from attack.

Have you made the mistake of not updating a printer which led to an attack? If you have, what was the result? Let us know in the comments below.


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