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How and Why to Encrypt Print Jobs

written by: Karishma Sundaram•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/18/2010

In a networked environment, it is common for printers to be shared. Therefore print jobs are sent via networks in unencrypted format, making the contents easily readable by sniffer programs on the network. This article looks at the important security aspect, usually overlooked in print jobs.

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    A Brief Introduction to Encryption

    Enterprise data is always of value, and therefore great measures are put in place to ensure that the data remains secure from unauthorized users. One of the more popular methods of protecting data is through the use of encryption.

    Although there are many methods of implementation, encryption can be explained as a simple process. The original data, also known as cleartext, is converted to an unreadable jumble. The jumble can only be unraveled to achieve the cleartext with the application of a key. The key can be either the same one used to encrypt the data in the first place, or another one altogether. This is where the subtleties of the various methods of encryption come into the picture.

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    Why Encrypt Print Jobs?

    Printer Quite often a network setup in an office has shared resources, including a printer. This means that the print jobs from any of the connected computers traverses through a network to reach the printer.

    In this scenario, if the printed information is sensitive, it would be protected on the computer through the use of authentication. The printed material would be hard copies in a physically secure environment. However the actual data traveling from the computer to the printer is sent as cleartext, which can be easily understood by any hacker.

    The traveling text becomes a vulnerability in the IT security infrastructure of the organization in question, and therefore is a tangible risk for unauthorized view. The data could be intercepted from any point in the network, including physical cables and other terminals.

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    Theory of Print Job Encryption

    Print job encryption has given rise to a different network protocol, known as Internet Printing Protocol. It is used in conjunction with secure socket layers (SSL) – a popular mechanism implemented in IT infrastructure.

    The printer itself usually has a hard disk on which the jobs are stored temporarily just prior to being executed. The encrypted data is stored on this disk, awaiting the next step in the security process. The user who created the print job then identifies the computer and authenticates their identity. After receiving these tokens, the printer then decrypts the data to commence the print job.

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    How to Encrypt Print Jobs

    The encryption is usually achieved through the use of certain software applications, which in turn use the Internet Printing Protocol to create the encrypted text, also known as ciphertext. Examples of software applications include SecureJet and Thin Print.

    In addition to the software solutions, big printer peripheral manufacturers like HP and Lexmark have introduced hardware solutions which facilitate encryption. The printers have slots into which cards are inserted, which in turn then control the print job queue and all its accompanying processes.

    In short, to encrypt print jobs on a network, there is a need for a good print management tool.