Columbia researcher Ang Cui explains how he was able to infect an HP printer with malicious code. Image: Columbia University
There's a ticking time bomb in your office. No, really - researchers from Columbia University discovered that flaws in laser printers can let malcious hackers hijack them, and turn them into a copy machine for criminals or even a fire starter:
Printer security flaws have long been theorized, but the Columbia researchers say they've discovered the first-ever doorway into millions of printers worldwide. In one demonstration of an attack based on the flaw, Stolfo and fellow researcher Ang Cui showed how a hijacked computer could be given instructions that would continuously heat up the printer’s fuser – which is designed to dry the ink once it’s applied to paper – eventually causing the paper to turn brown and smoke.
In that demonstration, a thermal switch shut the printer down – basically, causing it to self-destruct – before a fire started, but the researchers believe other printers might be used as fire starters, giving computer hackers a dangerous new tool that could allow simple computer code to wreak real-world havoc.