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Description: Could a hacker from half-way around the planet control your printer and give it instructions so frantic that it could eventually catch fire? Or use a hijacked printer as a copy machine for criminals, making it easy to commit identity theft or even take control of entire networks that would otherwise be secure?


Date: November 29, 2011

Printers can be remotely controlled by computer criminals over the Internet, with the potential to steal personal information, attack otherwise secure networks and even cause physical damage, the researchers argue in a vulnerability warning first reported by  They say there’s no easy fix for the flaw they’ve identified in some Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printer lines – and perhaps on other firms’ printers, too – and there’s no way to tell if hackers have already exploited it.

The researchers, who have working quietly for months in an electronics lab under a series of government and industry grants, described the flaw in a private briefing for federal agencies two weeks ago. They told Hewlett-Packard about it last week.

HP said Monday that it is still reviewing details of the vulnerability, and is unable to confirm or deny many of the researchers’ claims, but generally disputes the researchers’ characterization of the flaw as widespread.  Keith Moore, chief technologist for HP’s printer division, said the firm “takes this very seriously,” but his initial research suggests the likelihood that the vulnerability can be exploited in the real world is low in most cases.       READ REST OF STORY

Questions for discussion:

  1. Why are millions of computer printers open to devastating hack attacks?

2.  What type of damage or maleficence could be perpetrated by attacks on printers?

8 Responses to “Millions of printers open to devastating hack attack, researchers say”

  1. Breanne Marton

    Much damage could be done to printers that are left open and unsecured. These damages range from small pranks to identity theft and the stealing of private and secure information. Hackers have the ability to overload printers and cause them to overheat causing fires as well as embedding them with the ability to find specific and secure information such as social security numbers and record this information for resale later. This could potentially cause huge problems worldwide for both the private sector and the public sector. With hackers having the ability to reach secure information without any ability on the owner’s side to protect this information the damages could be innumerable. Either way damage will be inflicted on the general public and the business sector as most people will have to replace their current printers simply because there is no way to tell if you’ve been infected and no way to undo the damage that has already happened without the purchasing of new equipment. This will get very expensive for all parties involved if all printers must be replaced that were bought before a specific time. If companies wish to protect their private information however, this seems like it may be the only available alternative, replace your machinery or be left at risk for hacking.

  2. Rick Sharma

    A lot of printers are readily available because of their constant connection to the internet. Their vulnerability comes from their ability to operate as full fledged computers through embedded systems. And by this age of technological innovation, it is no secret that digital criminals can easily hack computers through various means of access. These ‘printer attacks’ can range from physical damages such as setting them on fire by to obtaining private, sensitive information. The hacker can easily hack the upgrade software and make the thermal breaker in printers heat up, which would brown the papers in the printer, eventually setting them on fire. Research companies have blamed big name companies such as Hewlett Packard for not having some kind of a signature to provide customers the ease of trust. However, HP denies that the thermal breaker cannot be broken or heated up by a simple intrusion.

  3. Wale Obateru

    The advancements in technology has its many advantages and its disadvantages as well. Hackers today continue to relentlessly look for new ways to break into computers as well as printers using various means which is the case of the Hewlett-Packard laser-jet printer scenerio as well as other printers. One of the major problems noted that enables hackers break into these printers is the fact that they do not have a proper means of software identification to verify whether they are authentic or not. This is a really serious problem because it makes it really easy for hackers to break into these printers to cause havoc. Hackers today are continously becoming more and more sophisticated in the relative ease in which they use the internet to break into hardwares using softwares, hence the need for computer and printer manufacturing companies to tighten their belts to make it difficult if not impossible for hackers to commit crimes that can have adverse effects on the users of these products, which could also lead to tarnishing of companies image and good reputation. This leads to distrust from consumers, lose of customer loyalty, as well as profit losses for companies. The design and configurations of these printers should be such that maximum attention is paid to ensuring that they are highly resistant to any form of attack.

  4. Nathan Jensen

    With the shift of making things wireless and mobile everything with computers is going that way. This includes printers that are becoming wireless. By being able to have your printer communicate with your computer at all times this allows for others to access your printers. There just aren’t enough security precautions in place to prevent this from happening. People don’t look at printers as being a medium in which they will be compromised through. People have the ability to print out whatever they wish on other people’s printers. They also say that people can create enough printing and friction that this could cause a fire and burn someone’s house down. I think this is an outrageous idea and feel there needs to be more research done before this can be proved. I n any sense there is easy access to anything with do now a days with computers, this includes the printer. Just like all other aspects of computers, there are certain security measures that must be set in place to prevent incidences from occurring. There are obviously many more important security breaches that can be carried out on an individual’s computer. The printer is just a small example of how people can control anything through technology.

  5. Andi Watts

    It took a few minutes for me to realize that this article was both real and quite serious due to the fact that it’s trying to scare us out of our own printers; this is what society is coming to and it is absolutely absurd. Malicious printer attacks? Really? This is ridiculous! ‘Who knows what villain has scoped out your wireless printer to be set ablaze by a FIRMWARE UPGRADE!’. The sound of it is completely insane. It’s articles like these that are suppressing the people into a house-bound coma and is also responsible for the massive list of agoraphobiacs (the fear of leaving the house). This is almost as valid of a claim as laptops killing off sperm; until you can materialize a legitimate cause-and-effect relationship and show people that it’s happening and that it is 100% responsible for causing said effect, it shouldn’t even be put into the backs of people’s minds. People already have enough to worry about like H1N1 and terrorism so scaring them off with printers is sensory overload. At the end of the day, let people have faith in humanity and their electronics alike, they should feel safe leaving their labradoodles at home alone with their printers without a second thought.

  6. Alejandro Valderrabano

    Millions of computer printers are open to attacks because they have no protection for the attack of hackers in terms of either stealing information or causing serious errors such as overheating and causing a fire. The other reason is HP computers are a brandthat has very deep market penetration and is the same brand that has been proven to be vulnerable, they are used on many corporate companies which of course can give access to sensitive information.

  7. Alejandro Valderrabano

    *Continues comment (My tablet gave me trouble).
    Most of the attacks come in the form of stealing information by sending it to another computer or by overheating the ink which could potentially cause a fire.

  8. Kelsey K

    I’m pretty sure that anything attached to the internet is in risk of getting hacked. And, since printers are almost always connected and insecure they defiantly fall into this risk. It is important that all our devices are monitored and watched over since they are attached to the internet. There are, always going to be risks when something is attached to the internet, it has been proven that it is clearly somewhat of an unsecure network. However, I think that if a hacker is going to hack something—I don’t think that in particular it would be a printer at aim. I think it would have to have much more benefit to them. However, there is no doubt that it could happen—- and could have devastating effects—such as a fire or something else hazardous.

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