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EU security agency warns over insecure printing

Paper jam

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Reckless printing isn't just creating a huge carbon footprint by turning forests into the contents of landfill sites via office rubbish bins. Running off copies of documents also creates a forgotten security risk, according to ENISA, the European Network and Information Security Agency.

A survey of 350 European business by ENISA discovered scant awareness of the costs and risks of uncontrolled printing.

Printers churn out a multitude of sensitive business documents ranging from invoices to employee and customer data, for example. Sensitive documents are often carelessly discarded next to printer or not even picked up. Just over half (53 per cent) of organisations surveyed by ENISA use authentication (technologies such as smart cards, biometric identification, or PIN codes) for printing.

Photocopier and printers have evolved from simple, single-function grey boxes to multifunctional, networked document processing hubs. Modern printing devices keep digital copies of scanned or printed documents. ENISA describes printing as the "forgotten link" in the security chain.

Printers are becoming more and more like other computing devices on a network. As the spread of the Code Red worm demonstrated, modern networked printers can be affected by malware. Networked printers can become a conduit for hacker attacks.

Andrea Pirotti, executive director of ENISA, commented: "Business in Europe must realise that printing and copying is not as safe as when Gutenberg started printing 540 years ago. Crucial company assets and confidential data is at stake as even printers can get hijacked."

ENISA's report, Secure Printing (pdf), details a set of advice on the secure printing and copying of confidential data. Among the report's key recommendations is that organisations develop a policy on who can print or copy documents, which should be classified depending on their level of sensitivity. The agency also advocates wider use of authentication in printing and the location of printers in secure areas. ®

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