Rewind a couple of generations, and the likelihood of a printer being hacked seemed very remote. After all, this was before standardised Multi-Function Printers. Just how – and why - does a hacker get into a single desktop inkjet holding little more than a few fluid ounces of toner and a wodge of A4?
That once-laughable sentiment has, for one reason or another, persisted in the modern era – yet the threat of printer breaches is very real and very common. With as many as 60% of UK businesses breached through insecure printers last year, and the cost-per-breach averaging £313,000, it’s worth reiterating that your Multi-functional Print devices need just as much protection as your servers, databases, emails and confidential data.
To see how easy and devastating a printer breach can be, let’s look at four of the most high-profile and wide-reaching incidents of the past year – each affecting thousands of insecure printers.
The self-styled ‘Hacktivist’ known as Weev – whose real name is Andrew Alan Auerenheimer – first made a name for himself in 2010 when he found and disclosed 114,000 AT&T customer emails which hadn’t been adequately secured. Whilst not technically a hack – the data was already insecure – Auerenheimer found himself jailed in 2013 for identity fraud and conspiracy to access a computer without authorization.
The case itself became a talking point for what legally constituted a hack, and Auerenheimer earned himself some apologists who considered his incarceration unlawful. Still, after an early release in 2014, he decided he hadn’t added enough fuel to that particular fire. In 2016, Auerenheimer compiled 2 lines of code which scoured the internet for insecure printers, instructing 20,000 of them print out a stream of flyers spouting white supremacist sentiments. Auerenheimer’s defence was that he hadn’t hacked anything; merely sent messages to the printers as they were configured for public use. Confident that he’d be let off on that technicality, the hacker seemingly ignored the damage done in subjecting businesses and universities to his anti-Semitic, hate-filled literature. In the time since, Auerenheimer has relocated to Ukraine and thus far, remains a free man.
The “PewDiePie” Hacks
A more trivial, less aggressive hack is the “PewDiePie” hack of December 2018. Orchestrated by enigmatic Twitter user “TheHackerGiraffe”, the hack targeted more than 50,000 insecure printers and forced them to print off streams of paper, each urging the victims to “Subscribe to PewDiePie”.
If you’re not familiar with PewDiePie, he’s a staggeringly famous YouTube personality who owns the second-biggest channel on the entire video streaming site. Whilst the hijack appeared to be a brute-force attempt to raise the video star to the top of YouTube’s ranks, TheHackerGiraffe revealed his true intentions in an anonymous interview with Wired:
“People underestimate how easy a malicious hacker could have used a vulnerability like this to cause havoc. Hackers could have stolen files, installed malware, caused physical damage to printers and even used the printer as a foothold into an inner network. The most horrifying part is I never considered hacking printers before. The whole learning, downloading and scripting process took no more than 30 minutes”.
Having previously warned users of a common network port vulnerability, Giraffe set out to prove just how easy it was to compromise printer security - with a benign and tongue-in-cheek call to arms, mercifully.
The Appropriately-Titled “StackOverFlowin”
Another hacktivist tale, this time compromising three times as many printers as the PewDiePie hack of 2018.
Using a short and simple programme built in the C coding language, an anonymous security enthusiast known only by his Twitter handle of “lmaostack” compromised 150,000 internet-connected printers worldwide and had them print off a stream of mostly-nonsensical text (also some impressive-looking robots drawn in the ASCII coding language). Stack then signed his work off as “Stackoverflowin” and informed victims they were the victims of a botnet – even though they weren’t.
Stack has since gone on record to insist that his intentions were noble, spurred by his reading of a Ruhr University report into printer vulnerabilities. In an interview with Gizmodo, he claims the response to his cautionary hack has been thankful and encouraging – so it’s a risk that somehow paid off.
In the week following the infamous PewDiePie attacks, an anonymous infiltrator (albeit one operating from an IP address renowned for malpractice) began advertising their “viral marketing” service. The service, they boasted, would reach “every single printer in the world” in order to spread their client’s messages. They promoted this claim by – altogether now – hijacking thousands of devices to print their advertisement.
When printer security is so lax that hackers can offer this service – not to mention prove that it works – it’s time for businesses to step up their printer security.
While manufacturers and business owners have recently made efforts to improve their print security, the fact that the majority of businesses have still been compromised through their devices means they remain one of cyber-crimes most popular avenues for infiltration.
Mirus Managed Print ensures your printers are secured against threats and optimised for secure, cost-effective printing.
Our 4 Steps to Printer Security eBook outlines the major considerations when securing your print devices from threats and intrusions – get your copy here.