You have secured your servers, you have end point protection, but have you ensured your organization is protected against printer hacking? According to one hacker, as many as 300,000 organizations have left a gaping hole in their security defenses as a result of leaving their printers open to the Internet and failing to even use any form of authentication.

Your Printer Has Been Owned!

The hacker decided to draw attention to the problem, not by publishing details of the flaws, but by attacking around 150,000 companies. The attack was rather benign. The hacker did not attempt to gain access to network resources or install malware. He just sent rogue jobs to the printers.

The printouts said “Your printer has been owned.” The hacker also claimed the printers had been added to ’a flaming botnet’ as a result of the lack of security in place. Some of the messages sent are not appropriate for reproduction. A common message was ‘everyone likes a meme, fix your bull***t.’

The claims were not true, but the hacker did prove a point. Printer hacking is a very real threat and future attacks may be much more malicious in nature. If printers are left open to the Internet with no authentication required, they could be subjected to DoS attacks. Companies would be left unable to print. Printers could also be added to botnets. Those would be best-case scenarios of course. Printer hacking could cause much more serious harm.

Hackers could take advantage of flaws and run arbitrary code. Printers could be used as a launchpad to gain access to corporate networks, sabotage systems, install malware and ransomware, and stealing corporate secrets and sensitive customer and patient data.

Following the printer cyberattack, the ‘victims’ took to social media to report the incidents. Some reported that corporate network printers were affected, others claimed their POS system printers had been owned. In the case of the former, the cyberattack could potentially have resulted in a network compromise. In the case of the latter, credit and debit card-stealing malware could have been installed.

The hacker in question claims he is a UK student with an interest in security research. He says he has access to RCE flaws that would enable him to take control of more than 300,000 printers. In this experiment, he took advantage of the lack of authentication controls on communications port 9100. The attacks involved the RAW protocol, Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) and the Line Printer Daemon (LPD).

Many of the printers susceptible to printer hacking are used by universities and other higher education establishments. In a separate ‘attack’ a different hacker also proved a point about the lack of security controls, the ease of finding computers to attack, and just how easy it was to send rogue output to printers. He chose to send anti-sematic print jobs to printers at universities in the United States for maximum coverage. After the attacks, reports started flooding social media from students at Yale, UC Berkeley, DePaul University and UMass Amherst.

Printer Hacking Mitigation Required

The two hacks come just a few days after security researchers in Germany announced they had discovered vulnerabilities in printer manufacturers by some of the big names in computer hardware, such as Samsung, HP, Dell and Lexmark. More than 20 models of printer were discovered to contain flaws that could be easily exploited. Undoubtedly many more printers are vulnerable.

If printers are left exposed and can be accessed by anyone over the Internet, it will only be a matter of time before a malicious attack occurs. Protecting against printer hacking is therefore essential. To do this, printers should be set up on a virtual private network (VPN) and organizations should make 100% sure that their printers cannot be accessed through public IP addresses. That would require access controls to be applied to routers to whitelist certain IP ranges.