Add one more device to the list of things you need to protect from hackers: The humble printer.
In two separate presentations scheduled for the Shmoocon hacking conference in Washington, D.C., next week, researchers will show how hackers can use printers to compromise a company’s computer network. One presentation will reveal how poorly secured printers can even be grouped together to act as online storage for cybercriminals.
Over the past decade, many ordinary office devices have gained surprising new functionality—nowadays, some printers can send and receive e-mails, and even browse the Web. But Deral Heiland, an independent security consultant who will give one of the presentations, says manufacturers haven’t given security nearly the attention it deserves in light of all the new features. “These devices have gone from being standard, simple printers that got on the network to the point where they are totally integrated in the business environment,” Heiland says. “And that heavy integration is what makes them a premium target.”
Heiland, who works as a “penetration tester,” or someone who attempts to hack in to a company’s network under controlled circumstances, was inspired to look for printer flaws and configuration issues.
At Shmoocon, Heiland will demonstrate a program called “Praeda” (Latin for plunder) that uses a collection of common security flaws and configurations issues—such as default passwords—to gain access to printers from outside a company’s network. Vulnerable printers can then be used to compromise the network. Once the tool gets inside the network, it can steal passwords and files, giving it even more access to servers and other devices.
Heiland says simple configuration issues often make printers vulnerable in this way. For example, many manufacturers do not force users to set a new password to access their device. That means many printers have default passwords that can easily be found in manuals posted online. In addition, printers that can be accessed via a Web browser often run insecure Web server software, allowing a knowledgeable attacker to find usernames and passwords.
“We have found out that with a lot of printers, that data is not obfuscated very well,” Heiland says. “Where it stores the username and password, we can go into the source and find a field with the information in plaintext.”