Have you sold, traded or thrown out a used printer in the last few years? If so, it’s possible you may also have given someone an opportunity to access personal and business information stored on the machine.
A recent CBS News investigation showed that the hard drives in copiers built since 2002 store document images that can be retrieved and printed later, after the machine has changed hands. While copiers pose the greatest risk, it turns out that some printers work the same way, storing the documents that you have scanned and copied. A well-used machine could hold hundreds or thousands of private records.
The issue has gotten the attention of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which has been contacting copy-machine manufacturers to determine whether they are warning customers of the potential risks and whether they’re offering security options.
According to PCWorld:
FTC Chairman Jo Leibowitz…said the FTC is working with copy machine makers and sellers to provide “appropriate educational materials” to their clients. The FTC is also reviewing its own educational materials related to privacy and computer hard drives, and it will create new information for consumers and businesses on digital copy machines, Leibowitz said.
Meanwhile, PCMag.com followed up on the CBS report by consulting Kevin Brown, from product-tester ICSA Labs, about the risks posed by home and small network printers.
There’s no big database that says this printer has an internal hard drive while that one doesn’t. He recommended examining the specifications and user manual for your exact printer model online, to start. If that doesn’t bring clarity, ask the vendor directly whether the printer includes a hard drive or any other form of storage that retains data even when the printer is turned off.
If your printer does have a hard drive, you have two basic options for clearing the machine before passing it on to someone else. In some cases, you may be able to physically remove and destroy the hard drive, making the information inaccessible. Or you may be able to find erasure software that will wipe the hard drive. Both have downsides and may not always be possible.
Data Erasure Software offers a useful look at the pros and cons of various methods to wipe your printer hard drive.
Otherwise, Brown suggests you always find out whether the printer you’re considering has a hard drive. You may not need one that does. And if you do, make sure you buy one that is easily erased when you decide to upgrade.