I included this item in a previous Security Corner article, but I wanted to make it the focus of this one. Several astute eNerds have sent me links to articles on this topic recently and I want to express my appreciation for their involvement.
The issue is simple and apparently has been a HUGE security hole for a long time, but went mostly unnoticed (at least by the security community, but perhaps not by the “bad guys“) until a few weeks ago. Most “high end” printers (and copiers, which typically also serve as scanners and printers), have hard drives in them to store images. This is a good feature and makes sense – it is a way to be able to go back and retrieve images for future use. This is also a way to “spool” print jobs as they come in until the copier/printer is able to print them.
These hard drives are typically accessible through the web-based management console, but many users seldom or never access these drives. Many do not even know that there is a hard drive in their printer or copier.
There is probably a LOT of sensitive information contained on that hard drive. If the unit is in a medical office, patient medical records have been printed and scanned. If the unit is in the offices of an insurance or financial services provider, or in a bank, or in the offices of a mortgage broker – well just think of the personal information that is scanned, faxed, and printed!!
This represents a significant risk, even while the unit is just sitting on the network, because most companies do not have this hard drive on their “access control” radar screen. The REALLY BIG problem, though, is that many businesses lease these units and replace them with newer ones when they go “off lease”. Where do those units go after the leasing company reclaims them? They are resold as used equipment – often at bargain prices, in bulk lots, and to buyers in other countries.
In a reasonable world, one would think the leasing companies would have the good sense to remove or replace these drives or wipe them securely before sending them on to a new home. NOT SO. It turns out that these units are often re-sold as-is, complete with all that juicy personal information on the drive for anyone to recover (steal).
So warn all your clients – when that unit goes out the door, everything that has been scanned, faxed, or printed (potentially during the entire life of the unit) may be going out with it. This is true for units that are going off-lease, being recycled, being donated, or just headed for the landfill 🙁
Lease agreements may prohibit the removal of the drive, and we ALL know that simply deleting the files does not remove them. Clients should insist on WRITTEN guarantees from the lessor that these drives will be securely erased before resale, recycling, or disposal.
Hard drives are not a new feature of these units, and one would have to assume that this problem has just gone unnoticed until recently. One would also have to HOPE that the recent publicity will spur some action (if only to avoid liability) on the part of the manufacturers and lessors of these units.
I was going to include some of the links that have been sent, but just “Google” “copier hard drive security risk” and you will get more than you will want to read / watch.
Dennis H in West Virginia, US
May 10, 2010