Multifunction printers today can scan, fax, email and even photocopy. So why not extend those capabilities and allow people to "print" documents to the cloud?
That's the pitch being made by Xerox, which Wednesday announced the release of a set of applications dubbed ConnectKey along with 16 different multifunction printers that build in the software.
Using ConnectKey software -- either on a multifunction device or standalone on an endpoint -- users can route their documents to DropBox, Evernote, Google Drive, PaperPort Anywhere, Salesforce.com and SharePoint Online, as well as connect directly to SharePoint folders. The software can also be used to print from mobile devices -- dedicated apps are available for iOS and Android devices -- as well as transform documents on the fly; for example, to convert a SharePoint-stored PowerPoint to a PDF for easier viewing on an iPad.
A cloud-based version of ConnectKey offered by Xerox will serve as a printer finder for a business, allowing mobile employees to see a geographically organized list of all printers they're authorized to print to and then select one for a particular print job.
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In June, Xerox said it will release App Studio, which will allow businesses to create custom ConnectKey apps that run on multifunction devices and that directly route information to ERP, CRM, and other types of enterprise applications. For example, the software could be used to create an expense app that allows employees to scan business receipts, then press a button to route the information to the corporate payment system for reimbursement.
But making printers -- and the documents they've scanned -- Internet-connected can be a recipe for security disaster, as demonstrated by the large number of unsecured, Internet-connected devices used by businesses that remain publicly accessible due to being misconfigured. Indeed, as further highlighted by recent reports of vulnerabilities in HP's implementation of the JetDirect standard, unless peripherals with embedded Web servers are appropriately locked down, enterprising hackers might remotely intercept documents or crash devices.
Accordingly, why might information security managers allow employees to access cloud-friendly document routers like the ones Xerox is now selling? "From a security point of view, what we're trying to do is get beyond that barrier with many IT administrators -- that it's unknown to me, and if it's unknown, it's bad," said Larry Kovnat, Xerox's senior manager of product security, speaking by phone. "You'll put something with all these capabilities in the enterprise, and IT will say, I don't know anything about this device, I'm going to put it on a VLAN and shut it off."
According to Xerox, ConnectKey was built from the start with security in mind, and the devices sport endpoint security software agents from McAfee, and also whitelist which applications are allowed to run. "The only software that should be running on these devices is software that we wrote; it's not a general-purpose device," said Kovnat. The devices also tie into McAfee's ePolicy Orchestrator, which according to Kovnat, means that "now we can present the device to the IT administrator as a manageable endpoint on the network."
ConnectKey devices can also be monitored using Cisco's TrustSec, which will allow IT managers who use Cisco's Identity Services Engine to watch the traffic going to and from the multifunction printers. "While we haven't embedded anything [from Cisco] in the device, we've worked closely with them to give them proprietary information about our devices, so now at the router or switch level, they can differentiate between a true device and someone who's trying to impersonate a printer," Kovnat explained.
Xerox's forthcoming App Studio can be used to create applications that run on the multifunction printers themselves, including the option of creating a "one-button process," said Rick Dastin, president of Xerox Office & Solutions Business, speaking by phone. "They can grab a document and store it [in the cloud], all in an automated way."
But before any new application can be installed on any printer, it must first be submitted to Xerox for review. If the application passes Xerox's security checks, it will then be digitally signed by Xerox, authorizing it to be installed and to run on designated multifunction printers. According to Kovnat, only something that has been properly signed and registered can execute on the device.
Kovnat also addressed the report of weaknesses in HP's implementation of the JetDirect protocol -- the de facto industry standard for handling network-delivered print jobs -- in some products. (HP has disputed some of the researcher's findings.) "The protocol itself isn't flawed -- it's just meant for printing, not security," said Kovnat of JetDirect. "So if you don't build the right controls into a device, you can get to the internals of a printer in ways that you're not meant to."
Kovnat said Xerox builds controls into its products to validate print files and job commands and ensure that they're not being used by someone to try and inappropriately access other print jobs or a disk or network shares. "The job coming in has to be a valid print job, and these print-control commands are filtered, so there's no access by the printing subsystem to any of the underlying subsystems, or computing resources," Kovnat said. "We test that extensively."
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