Data Doctors: Updating printer software

Q: Do printers really need to have their software updated?

A: The first line of defense against much of the malicious activity being perpetrated online is by making sure your devices and software are protected by installing the latest updates, and that includes many of today’s printers.

While updates aren’t always for security purposes — they can also improve functionality or even add new features — they often fix recently discovered vulnerabilities.

When you don’t install these updates, you become a valuable target for those looking to exploit unprotected users through malicious websites or phishing scams.

When you visit any website, there is an exchange of information that goes on in the background, which can include a silent probe of your device to see whether it’s vulnerable. Malicious files that can appear to be official documents in an email are also used by hackers to silently probe your devices for unpatched vulnerabilities.

Firmware updates

Hardware devices often use small embedded software programs installed during the manufacturing process — called firmware — that provide a set of instructions for the device.

Because this code is embedded in one of the hardware components, it’s not the same as traditional software or an operating system, but the process of updating it generally works the same way.

You would go to the support section of the manufacturer’s website to find your specific model and look for updates for that device. Once downloaded, getting the update to your hardware device usually requires it to be connected to your computer.

The specific instructions for installing the firmware update for each device is usually provided along with the update on the website.

A variety of common hardware devices, such as printers, scanners, cameras, routers, smart home devices, streaming media players and smart TVs, offer firmware updates. If a device connects to the internet in any way, it’s very important to keep up with any security updates.

In some cases, the updates can be automatically downloaded and installed, or you can go to the Settings menu of the device to see whether an update is available (e.g. Apple TV).

Many smart home devices have an associated app that can be used to check for and install updates over Wi-Fi.

Critical HP printer advisory

Hewlett-Packard recently published a critical security advisory for a large number of their printing and digital sending products because of a potential remote code execution vulnerability.

This type of vulnerability is considered very serious because it could allow a remote attacker to gain full access to the device.

This can be especially dangerous for large business networks, since the printer can become the gateway to much larger attacks across the network.

The affected devices include many of HP’s popular LaserJet, OfficeJet and DeskJet models, so anyone with an HP printer should check to see whether their device is included in the advisory.

If so, you can find the firmware update for your specific device via the HP Customer Support downloads page.

If your HP printer connects directly to the internet, you should be able to check for the firmware update via the printer’s control panel by going to the Settings menu.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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