The new wave of secure printing tech: protecting your data

BYOD poses risks for data protection. Here’s how to keep data safe with multi-use printers

By James Stelfox

The trusty printer credit system has been the bedrock of printing in educational bodies for decades. Times are changing, however. With BYOD very much a part of school life, IT security has never been more important.

Academies must consider how their printers play into this, and take the lead in managing security from the ground up. Focusing on these three strategic imperatives will enhance their existing security efforts, and reveal where the missing link could be. 

The move away from printer credits

There are several new ways for schools and academies to track students’ printing, and still have a system in place where payment is required before any printing takes place. Some universities, for example, are taking a similar approach to the local library and charging students in arrears for unpaid print jobs.

This isn’t a necessary route to go down, however. Some new printers are capable of accepting debit or credit cards, meaning that students no longer need to buy credits in advance, and can just pay to print their work when needed. If a new printer is not possible within an IT budget, many educational bodies are adopting a ‘unicard’ system, where a key card is used to access all services, from lunches to printing.

Upping security levels

Whilst printer security is less of an issue for students themselves, all academies should be seriously considering the impact that leaving documents in the printer tray could have from a security perspective. 

Any sensitive data, from students’ details to staff salaries, is vulnerable as it goes through a building’s network and then sits in the printer memory or paper tray

Any sensitive data, from students’ details to staff salaries, is vulnerable as it goes through a building’s network and then sits in the printer memory or paper tray. The latter could be picked up by any visitor into the building walking past the printer, or even the students themselves. 

There are a number of solutions to combat this. Securing the printer itself should be the first step, where access to the printer is controlled before any documents are released. This can take the form of a PIN code, a unicard or in some cases, even a fingerprint scanner. 

Another factor to consider is the documents stored in a printer’s memory, i.e. documents sent to print but never actually printed out. This information can be easily hacked, but this can also be easily solved. Many devices have a setting to automatically delete any documents sent to the printer which haven’t been collected after a certain amount of time, e.g. after 24 hours.

The impact of BYOD

Whilst many educational bodies are happy to offer their students the opportunity to bring in their own devices, this is not without its challenges – especially from a security standpoint. A lost or stolen smartphone, a dodgy app download or even connecting to a public Wi-Fi can put an academy’s data and entire network at risk.

This is not to say that BYOD is a bad idea, of course. Academies must put protocols in place to help safeguard their data and networks, particularly as more and more students bring in mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

With a large number of devices now supporting mobile printing, students can print coursework and other documents from their personal phones and tablets whilst at school. As such, it is vital for academies to educate their students on the importance of printing security, and the impact that bringing their own devices could have on the network.

The main takeaway from the evolution of printing technology is that security must be a priority for academies today. Updating existing printers is one of the easiest ways to ensure that data on students and staff stays safe, in addition to ensuring that students are aware of the impact bringing their own devices can have on an academy’s IT security.