Copiers -- the Hidden Network Security Hole

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In decades past, the copier was viewed as a benign office machine, nomore of a security threat than the common calculator or typewriter.

But today's technologically advanced copiers -- also calledmultifunction printers or multi-function devices -- are commonlyconnected to companies' computer networks and are capable of scanningdocuments and sending faxes and e-mails. As a result, they also presenta huge security hold, giving hackers one more way to steal corporateinformation.

And what makes this particular hole that much more dangerous is the factthat nobody thinks of copiers as a threat at all. And that leaves themwide open to attack.

Although a growing number of IT professionals and manufacturers ofmulti-function devices are starting to take a look at buttoning up thissecurity risk, it's far from being a well-known problem.

Sharp Electronics Corp. sponsored a 2001 survey of 1,100 ITprofessionals, which showed that 47 percent believed theircopier/printer didn't contain a hard drive. Additionally, 65 percentbelieved their copier/printer presented little or no risk to datasecurity. Only 5 percent of respondents were aware of any data securitybreach in their multi-function machines.

But those naive notions are starting to change, say industry analysts.

According to a recent survey by International Data Corp., a majorindustry research firm based in Framingham, Mass., 78 percent ofparticipating companies identified document security as ''veryimportant''. Also, security placed first as a corporate concern, aheadof document storage.

Document security is currently, and will continue to be, one of theleading concerns for end users, according to Dan Corsetti, an IDCresearch analyst of hardcopy peripheral solutions and services.

''[Security] is increasingly important as copy machines become moreactive components of the network,'' agrees Anton Zajac, president andCEO of Eset, a global security software solution company headquarteredin San Diego.

Attaching a multi-function device to the computer network gives acompany greater flexibility and convenience, but it also allows anyoneon the network to access, disrupt or potentially intercept documentssent over the network or stored in hard drives.

''Every time I send a document, it's vulnerable, whether it's on itsway, when it's being stored or still on the hard drive,'' Corsetti says.

In recent years, technological advancements have resulted in broaderaccessibility of electronic documents and network connectivity, whichhas caused problems that businesses didn't have to worry about a decadeago. Network infiltration, image corruption, output security andend-user abuse are issues that IT administrators should be thinkingabout, adds Corsetti.

Now, issues like growing digital copier connectivity, wirelessconnectivity, government and regulatory practices, along with the risingcost of documents have led to an increase in MFP security-relatedproducts.

One of the leading trends affecting the printing and imaging industry isa host of new governmental and regulatory compliance acts andstandardization requirements, Corsetti also points out. Thoseregulations may not require that specific actions be taken or evenspecify how information should be protected, only that certaininformation must be protected.

Larry Kovnat, Xerox's product security manager, says the new privacy andregulatory requirements have caused the healthcare and legal industries,as well as many government agencies and contractors, to insist thattheir multi-function devices be impenetrable.

''Hardcopy peripheral vendors are thus being asked to provide thenecessary security software and services to enable end-usercompliance,'' says Corsetti.

The analyst differentiates between two areas of multi-function copiersecurity.

First, he notes that physical security measures are those that happen atthe device itself. Administrators need to make sure that printeddocuments aren't left lying around on top of an unsecured printer wherethey could fall into the wrong hands.

On the vendor side, they have been providing security measures, such asremovable hard drives, hard drive overwrite and password print/secureprint, for some time. However, making sure people use those securityfeatures is another matter.

Network security regarding multi-function devices is newer.

The first multi-function devices were available around 1996, accordingto Xerox's Kovnat. Security attempts in the years that followed simplyincluded machines with removable hard drives.

One example is Eset's recently developed NOD32 anti-virus software,which was adopted by Canon's Color imageRUNNER Workplace Gateway. Inaddition to traditional virus detection files, NOD32 uses a uniqueheuristic engine that identifies worms and viruses based on theirbehavioral patterns, rather than pre-assigned signatures.

Other network security solutions include audit controls, digital rightsmanagement, digital signature solutions, encryption, and lightweightdirectory access patrol, Corsetti notes.

Kovnat also points out that there is no ''common'' way for hackers toget into a networked copier and that all network components aresusceptible to a break in.

Adds Kovnat, ''We have to find [potential breaches] before the bad guysdo.''