Today's network printers may still look like printers and copiers, but they have hard drives -- which means that, like desktop, notebook and server computers, and external storage, they can contain sensitive data, which should not be accessible to inappropriate users.
One company that's helping raise awareness of the issue, problems and solutions of data residing on printers and MFPs is Xerox Corporation, with an ongoing series of webinars and other events, including the webinar "Hard Disk Security Webinar: Is your confidential data at risk?" which the company conducts a few weeks ago for resellers, and has scheduled one for customers, for Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 10AM PT.
I spoke last week with one of the scheduled speakers, Larry Kovnat, Manager, Product Security at Xerox Corporation. (Here's a short video of Kovnat on this topic.
Because these devices have hard drives and CPUs, Kovnat points out. "This makes them intelligent nodes. We try and make sure people look at it this way."
This doesn't mean that these devices are inherently dangerous, but, says Kovnat, "they come with a set of risks that the plain old copier never had. And so they have to be managed, with awareness of those risks."
The risk in terms of hard drives or other non-volatile storage (meaning, storage where data doesn't disappear when the power is turned off) is protecting personal information and other sensitive data, from being accessed by inappropriate parties, whether over the network, or by removing the hard drive and examining it directly as if it were an external hard drive.
(For simplicity, "disk" and "hard drive" also means flash storage like a Compact Flash or Secure Digital card, or embedded flash RAM.)
Xerox's efforts to help ensure the security of data on printers and MFPs includes providing it in their products, and helping customers be aware of these features, and why and how to use them.
First, says Kovnat, users need to understand why there are disks in these devices. "Typically, this is more an issue for MFPs than printers, although those may have disks, too. As a device becomes more complex -- has more functions -- it may need this internal storage."
A hard drive, for one thing, lets a machine server multiple users -- lets them "submit" and queue jobs, which get "buffered" -- stored -- on the hard drive until their turn comes to be printed. "The disk is a FIFO -- First-In, First-Out -- buffer," says Kovnat. "To let the machine serve multiple clients, you need some way to manage the incoming throughput. It establishes a print server, a queue, and uses the disk to buffer the jobs." The device may also need to save data to if it's doing image processing, like turning a file into a MARC file before printing it.