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What does Secure Printing actually mean

Hospitals. Accountancy firms. Legal practices. Schools. Everyone needs a secure print environment these days. Yet it’s easy to take printing for granted when it comes to security. Some people think, because they’re dealing with physical documents, there’s less risk, or chance of attack. But ensuring secure printing is crucial for many businesses, especially those that deal in confidential or private information.

So if you don’t know where to start with secure document printing – start here. This is our ultimate guide to secure print.

What is ‘secure print’? 

Secure print is also known as ‘secure printing’ or ‘pull printing’. It’s sort of the catch-all name for technologies, protocols and policies that make printing more secure. Sounds simple, but with multiple vulnerabilities across most networks, creating a safe print environment isn’t always straightforward. The basic idea is to control three things: who can print, where they can print, and what they can print.

It’s about access, control, and overlapping layers of protection. If those things can be seamless, and not interfere with the day-to-day running of business, that’s the sweet spot.

Why is secure printing important?  

Let’s imagine an office printer with no safeguards or security measures. It’s in a public space, open to everyone, and there are no authentication controls. In other words, anyone can print on it, and anyone can grab the documents it prints.

You can quickly see, in a busy office, how chaotic this might get. Say someone from HR needed to print a confidential employee file – they’d send the job to the public printer, and it would get mixed up with other office print jobs, potentially sitting in the tray where anyone could read it. There are no audit logs, so there’s no way to track who printed what. If (or more likely when) a breach occurs, there’s no accountability for information. You’d never know who gained access to the wrong document.

In most industries, this is just common sense. No-one wants to lose control of confidential business information. But in some industries, like finance, law and healthcare, secure printing is a matter of law.

How does secure printing work?  

Secure document printing works in a few ways. The best systems have overlapping layers of defense, so if one gets compromised, the whole system isn’t at risk. Some common methods of secure print include:

  • User Authentication – Before sending a print job to the printer, a user has to authenticate themselves. Usually this is done through a PIN code or password, but you can also use biometric scans or swipe access cards.
  • Print Job Encryption – There are a bunch of different print job encryption protocols, like Transport Layer Security and Internet Protocol Security. We’ve gone into more detail on them here. They basically keep print jobs secure during transmission and storage.
  • Queue Selection – The user goes to the printer they want to use and selects the print job from a list displayed on the printer’s control panel. This is a useful physical protection measure, but it won’t work for all organisations (especially those who do a lot of remote network printing).
  • Authentication at the printer – Again, in a physical office, users can re-authenticate themselves at the printer, usually with the same access code as before. You can also set up Two Factor Authentication (2FA) for added security.

So what about print-to-me jobs, also known as ‘Find-me Printing’? This is when all printers on a network connect to the same server. Authorised users can visit any device, swipe their card or enter a code, and print their documents at that specific printer. With PaperCut Pocket, you can also manage this process via your cell phone.

Find-me printing is one of the best advancements PaperCut has brought to the printing world, and it’s also one of the safest. With our Secure Print Release feature, you can make sure print jobs never land at an unattended printer (just hanging out in the print tray for anyone to see). By using a central hold-and-release queue, find-me printing makes sure that the person standing in front of the printer is the owner of that print job.

Most secure print features are divided into Foundational (the must-haves) and Advanced (the nice-to-haves). Ideally your organisation will have all the Foundational features in place, as well as any Advanced features that are relevant to your business. When it comes to secure print, the general rule is: more the merrier.

Here are some common types of secure print features:

  • Secure print release – Users have to prove their identity at the printer before the job is released.
  • Print logging – You get full visibility over who’s printing what. Essential for big networks.
  • Password authentication – Another layer of security at the printer itself. You can also implement this when printing from your device.
  • Culture change – The one most people forget! You need to train your team and establish a good security culture.
  • Find-me printing – A great feature for big networks. Print to a ‘virtual printer’ and retrieve your print job from any device.
  • Biometric authentication – We can sync your team’s door access cards to various printers. This controls who can print, and from which machine.
  • Two-Factor Authentication – Really the gold standard these days. Each print job requires a generated PIN to unlock.
  • Blocking Release – PaperCut can set up protocols so you never print to a printer that’s out of paper. This prevents sensitive jobs appearing later, when you’re not around!
  • Delegated Printing – Quickly establish a chain of printing command. With different user levels, teachers can release jobs on behalf of students, or managers on behalf of staff.

You can read all about PaperCut’s secure print features here . To setup your own secure network, just contact our friendly team.

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