Okay this is definitely one that I didn’t see coming but according to researchers at Columbia University there is a vulnerability affecting millions of printers that could literally see them being hacked into setting themselves on fire.
Professor Salvatore Stolfo has found that the devices are totally open and exploitable; which is possibly due to the increasing amount of technology that is being crammed into printers while at the same time security has been lagging.
One of the leading printers found to have this vulnerability is the HP LaserJet line of printers that allows hackers to push unauthorized firmware updates to the printers. Apparently the HP printers will go out to the web before printing to see if there are any updates that it might need. The problem is that the printers don’t do any kind of source check before downloading and installing any updates. this means that anyone with any kind of know-how can trick the printers into accepting the bad update.
When it came to demonstrating the kind of damage that could be done Professor Stolfo showed how it was possible to get the printer to overheat the fuser until it melts, and while there are protection switches to stop the printer from actually catching on fire Stolfo showed that it could be done.
There are more subtle applications as well. In another demonstration, an infiltrated printer was used to copy printed documents and send them off to hackers. In this case, tax returns being printed on an infected device were copied and sent off to hackers where they could be scanned for information like social security numbers. And of course, any hackers who wanted to just disable printers in an entirely mundane fashion could do that as well, easily.
Of course this possibility of hacked printers never thought it would happen as they push for an Internet of Things eh.
image via chaz6.com on Flickr