When it comes to information security, printers may not be the one of the first categories of digital devices that comes to mind for business owners. But they should be. Too often corporate executives overlook the role printing processes may play in data protection until a disaster strikes and they are forced to address the issue, wishing it was something they had done a long time ago.

Printers can be a source of frustration for some organizations. And that's understandable. In fact, feeling like printing processes are a point of pain may even be expected, especially for firms that are not using the right technologies and systems to manage their specific job functions and needs. But as the Internet of Things continues to evolve, it is becoming critical for businesses to make sure their organizations are protected at every level. A company can't guarantee that it will be able to defend itself against future threats if it isn't properly monitoring and maintaining its existing devices.

Printing processes: vulnerable source for disruption
The issue of print security was recently explored by Josephine Wolff in an article for Slate. Devices that are publicly available are, of course, limited in their restrictions. She pointed out that, in environments where large quantities of people are sharing the printers, it is quite difficult to put extra layers of protection in place. And this may not seem like glaring problem for most. Certainly there are more pressing matters for companies to worry about than who is able to use their devices, even if it means an increase in wasted paper and ink.

But, as Wolff pointed out, it is not this aspect that businesses should be worried about. It is increased access to the paper forms and documents being printed that pose a risk. "Many printers these days are as technologically sophisticated – and vulnerable – as personal computers; they can connect to wireless networks and store data on hard drives," the assistant professor of public policy and computing security explained. "And the more sophisticated printing technology gets, the more complicated their security vulnerabilities can become."

In her article, Wolff's main area of focus is on communal printers used on college campuses. However, her point, and the overarching topic of the security in paper-based processes, is applicable to businesses of all sizes and industries. When it comes to protecting sensitive data and information, most people are quick to worry about their smartphones or computers, wondering if their privacy is at risk. Companies assign IT specialists to ensure their systems won't be hacked or customer details leaked. And while these are fair and necessary concerns, the targeted items are not the only vulnerable components.

Digital devices and physical barriers
High-profile cases of data breaches at major financial institutions demonstrate how damaging a security hack can be to a business. Whether a small automotive company, a multinational law firm or a health care system, the majority of companies, if not all, deal with sensitive transactional data and personal information that they need to protect. This is getting increasingly harder to ensure as the Internet of Things evolves and more businesses begin relying on electronic and Web-based processes. The more digital devices and connected channels an organization uses, the more susceptible to outside threats it becomes. And that includes its printers.

It is important for businesses to consider that a great deal of security incidents can be attributed to human error. All it takes is one unauthorized party getting its hands on a confidential document, insurance record or transactional form for an organization to find itself a victim of attack.

This is why, as Michael O'Connor pointed out in an article for DS News, companies should take a "multi-disciplined approach to manage organizational risk and meet compliance requirements." Furthermore, he added, companies should also be "taking an inventory of physical opportunities to reduce vulnerabilities." Some of these measures suggested by the source include locking up computers when they're unattended and preventing users from moving data to external platforms.

The principle of paper protection
But, when it comes to printer security, it isn't just the digital devices and technology that matter. Organizations should also ensure risks of disruption, criminal activity or fraudulent behavior are further reduced by adding layers of protection onto the actual paper products.

Working with a printing solutions provider will allow businesses to leverage advanced security features that combat counterfeiting, forging, scraping and other schemes often used with checks, insurance claims, prescription pads, transcripts and more.

There are two main categories of paper protection solutions that organizations can use. In-paper features, which are embedded during the manufacturing process, make it extremely difficult for the item to be duplicated. Some examples include artificial watermarks, fibers, tamper-proof patterns and toner adhesions. On-paper choices include holograms, void pantographos and abrasion-reactive, thermochromic, invisible or metametric inks.

Regardless of which combination of document security measures is taken during the printing process, it is essential that businesses have some strategy for mitigating the risks of disruption. Outsourcing a managed print services provider is an effective way to ensure these solutions will be properly implemented.

In a world where cyberattacks and computers are a constant cause of concern, it is important that executives don't overlook the less-obvious sources of data breaches or fraud. By ensuring all levels of the organization are properly safeguarded, companies will be in a better position to defend themselves against future threats.