Posted on September 1, 2020 at 1:47 PM
A group of ethical hackers has proved that some printers may be vulnerable to online hacking. The hackers from CyberNews carried out a hacking attack to remind the public how vulnerable connected printing devices can be. “This printer has been hacked,” reads the message ominously.
The ethical hackers said there are about 28,000 printers that may be vulnerable and exposed online right now. To discover the number of printers on the menu for their experiments, the security team searched for IP addresses with open ports on specialized IoT search engines like Censys and Shodan. While they were researching, they ensured that the open devices were actual printers and not other types of IoT devices.
Nearly a million printers could be vulnerable
To achieve their hacking goal, the team searched the online community for printers with flawed security protocols. They discovered that about 800,000 of such printers are making use of a search engine known as Shodan.
The Shodan search engine tool is utilized by both cybercriminals and security researchers. Formerly, the main use of Shodan was to search for hundreds of solar devices and wind turbines. It was also used to find thousands of vulnerable security alarm systems and surveillance cameras.
Also, the Shodan search engine tool has been utilized by researchers and cybercriminals to search for thousands of susceptible networked printers. Two years ago, a hacker infiltrated about 50,000 printers and redirected them to print documents that support PewDiePie, a controversial YouTuber.
It was obvious there were financial costs, but the hacker also revealed issues his hacking stunt has brought. The incident allowed the hackers to retrieve sensitive documents since they have full control of what is being printed out. After the attack, the hacker claimed it has printed the support message using more than 100,000 printers. With this recent discovery of the vulnerability, hackers can take advantage and infiltrate printers and use them as they wish.
A wake-up call to improve security
It was this type of incident that serves as a wake-up call to improve the security of IoT devices on the internet. However, the issue was widely ignored, from what the CyberNews team found out.
The CyberNews researchers chose a sample of 50,000 printers according to their online protocols, brand, and their location. Afterward, the researchers developed the tool they used in the actual attack.
The research team generated a custom script meant to launch an attack on the printing system without looking elsewhere in stored data or other features in the printer.
When the script was cycling through the list, 27,944 printers quickly printed a printer security PDF guide.
CyberNews also revealed that the success rate for their experiment was 56 percent. The team said it was able to successfully hack 447,000 printers from a list of 800,000 that were available online form their search.
“These numbers speak volumes about the general lack of protection of networked devices worldwide,” the CyberNews team explained.
Numbers of printers at risk are very high
It shows that the numbers of printers at risk of compromise are unbelievably high at the moment. It equally shows how difficult it is to get people convinced about the related risk of such devices.
The scanned result of about 800,000 is similar to the number discovered by the 2018 PewDiePie hacker. It shows that the number of connected printing devices from two years ago has not changed much. It also reveals that the vulnerability of the devices is still very high.
It is possible that most of the victims of the 2018 attack saw the printed document and thought it was an old document printed by their colleague, and decided to crumple and toss them into the trash can.
However, this time the outcome is different because the message on the printed document is written if the users take a little time to read it. They would know it doesn’t have any relation with any company documents.
The research team chose a particular message to notify the users, who may not see the vulnerability easily. Yet, despite the clear effort to warn users about the vulnerability of their printers, some may not get the true picture. Unfortunately, those who do not may learn the hard way that their printer can become a gateway through which hackers can gain control of their network.