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Printing Security is the branch of cybersecurity that comprises printing jobs that follow industry-specific standards to prevent tampering and forgery of printed information. It applies to hardware and network component setups and aims to prevent unauthorized access to information. Security printing is used to print watermarks, stock certificates, banknotes, passports, identity cards, and tamper-evident labels.

Security printing software and tools also take care of access level rights and can restrict the printing access based on the access level rights of the person using the machine at that instance. Usually, secure print solutions use verification via pins or other security measures. They aim to protect a document’s privacy by providing print access to people assigned print privileges.

Due to the falsification of most industrial goods, security printing has become the need of the hour to boost people’s confidence in the technology. Most secure print software meets the standards for data security like PIPEDA, which regulates Canadians’ PII and information processed, stored, or revealed. However, Secure Print is preferably custom-made to satisfy the organization’s needs. Experts have categorized print security as a discrete category amongst several broader security systems.

Methods Used For Printing Security

Various methods are available to prevent counterfeit, and some of them have been extensively used due to their growing success rates. Since it is impracticable to list all of the methods used in print security, we will discuss some of the most common ones below.

1. Foils

Usage of foils has made it easy to identify the original documents from the counterfeit ones. The original documents would have metallic colors; the copied ones would have black images due to foil blocking. Cut-out and pasted images are easily identifiable and provide a greater barrier effect than the non-embossed foils. Foiled shapes are usually produced from a heated metal dye that is stamped onto a roll of foil laid on the paper’s surface.

2. Inks

Security inks are essential parts of the production process for print security. The following lists a few types of inks used for secure printing:

  • UV Ink - Ultra Violet (UV) Ink is invisible to the naked eye; therefore, it is frequently used. It is readable as it glows under the UV light source.
  • Fugitive Ink - This ink is used to prevent any document tampering using water or water-based solutions as this ink blots or flows if a fraudster tries to remove it with water.
  • Thermochromic Ink - This ink is sensitive to temperature changes and often disappears/reappears when subjected to distinct temperature ranges. Various ed thermochromic inks are specifically developed for particular temperature ranges.
  • Solvent Sensitive Ink - This ink is used to identify forgery or tamper attempts on the data as the ink smudges or changes colors when treated with solvents.

3. Image Flip

This concept utilizes two or three-channel effects of two or three-dimensional holograms, displaying different images from different angles. So this effective combination of 2D/3D with flipping images creates notable visual effects.

4. Concealed Images

Concealed images are also known as latent images. It can be seen only at particular acute angles and is a great way to provide authenticity checks.

5. CLR Images

Covert Laser Readable (CLR) image uses a laser device to verify the authenticity of a hologram (as well as hidden images). It has two types:

  • Dynamic CLR Image - It uses fragments that lasers can ready to produce animated screen images when the control device moves along the hologram's surface.
  • Multigrade CLR Image - It produces specific images on the screen on the control device.

6. Micro text & Nano text

Micro text size varies from 50-150 microns. Micro text that is smaller than 50 microns is known as nano text. It can only be read with a microscope. Holograms that are made using dot matrices can embed micro text.

7. Wallpaper Image

A wallpaper image is an image that is continuously repeating to form a pattern as the wallpaper.

8. Holograms

A hologram is the most effective way to secure documents and is categorized into different graphic types:

  • Two Dimensional - a flat 2D fixed image that changes color when viewed at specific angles.
  • Three Dimensional - a 3D image with depth with different design layers.
  • Two/Three Dimensional - a combination of a fixed 2D image and the depth of a 3D image.
  • Dot Matrix - quite similar to 2D but with additional complex details like micro text and nano text.

9. Fixed Colors

Holograms developed using fixed colors are used to prevent duplication of documents and prevent counterfeits. The fixed colors used in a design allow the retention of the corporate colors, which are visible when the hologram is viewed at specific angles.

10. Registered Images

When a fixed image appears on every hologram created, it is usually client-specific; it is used for corporate documents. Usually, manufacturers who develop holograms have designs available for registered holograms used for the security printing of documents.

11. Papers

Paper watermarks were first created in Fabriano, Italy, in 1282. Earlier, they were developed by water-coated metal stamp impressions pressed onto paper pulp undergoing manufacturing processes and were also done by hand on individual sheets. Later on, the process was revolutionized due to the evolution of technology, and it helped to prevent tampering and the creation of counterfeit documents. It also prevents fraud by authenticating the documents. Watermarks are usually off-white as most paper manufacturers use optical brightening agents (i.e., bleaches) to make the paper look whiter.

Pros Of Printing Security

The various advantages of security printing are:

1. Modern Technology for Security

As modern printers or copiers are more secure when compared to their previous models, i.e., laser printers, security printing encourages organizations to use the latest technology to ensure security. It might be difficult for organizations to upgrade their printers and copiers to develop effective security printing plans. Therefore, organizations use modern multifunction printers which provide fax, scan, copy and print functions with robust security features. Another advantage of using modern printers is that they assist in streamlining the organization’s work environment as they can accommodate integration and automation software.

2. Security Best Practices Awareness

Printer security can be a great way to make the organization’s employees aware of the safety best practices. Most of its elements emphasize employee behavior like printer access rights and authentication requirements, making one aware of the repercussions of leaving the document in the printer tray. As a result, these policies can be a great way to develop a security mindset among employees regarding company data making the employees more aware and enhancing organizational security.

3. Protecting Data at Every Stage

Various information passes through the organization’s printer every day, making printing an essential business process. Organizations invest loads of money into cybersecurity and document management framework, often overlooking secure printing, which becomes a loophole. Secure printers and copiers are the most effective way to remove this loophole by making the printers accessible to those who have access rights and by auto-deleting the print jobs from the hard drive that stores them.

4. Keep Resources Accessible

Secure printing increases the organization’s security and reduces the amount of non-essential printing due to user authentication and print tracking software. Since it is somewhat challenging for employees to print personal documents, it reduces printer downtime, which may occur due to a lack of security. Hence, printers are accessible as needed.

5. Minimize Malware Exposure

Printers and copiers do not store any data, but they do have access to an organization’s systems. These unsecured printers often become the perfect target for attackers to launch their malware, making printer functions a vulnerability in an organization's cyber defense. Malware moves laterally from a printer to the system and then finally into the network. Therefore, securing printers is essential in maintaining organizational security.

6. Regulatory Compliance

Regulatory compliance laws like HIPAA and FINRA are strict about maintaining a customer’s data. Printing security may immensely assist the organization in maintaining its data confidentiality.

7. Cutting Costs of Personal Printers

Organizations can cut costs and ensure data security by implementing secure print software on a networked printer. This will eliminate the need for personal printers and prevent data breaches. An additional advantage can be enabling mobile printing capabilities. This can protect information by sending information from the mobile device to the printer, reducing the chances of being intercepted by attackers.

Intermediate Printing Security is a course designed to get a deeper understanding of the abovementioned topics and to understand print security.

PrintNightmare Vulnerability: Exploitation and Mitigation is a vulnerability that might grab security professionals' attention and curious readers.


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