Spam your printer from the Web? Researcher shows how

A security enthusiast in the US has figured out how to send spam to a person's printer from an infected Web page.

Aaron Weaver has made a discovery the world could probably do without: He's found a way to spam your printer from the Web.

By using a little-known capability found in most Web browsers, Weaver can make a Web page launch a print job on just about any printer on a victim's network. The website could print annoying ads on the printer and theoretically issue more dangerous commands, like telling the printer to send a fax, format its hard drive or download new firmware.

Weaver, a security manager in the financial industry, described what he calls "cross site printing" in a research paper published Tuesday on the Ha.ckers.org website.

For a cross-site printing attack to work, a victim would have to visit either a malicious website or a legitimate page that suffers from a cross-site scripting flaw, which is a common type of Web programming error. The hacker would then send JavaScript code to the browser that would guess the location of the victim's printer and send it a print job.

Weaver has launched the attack successfully with both the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers. Because the attack works only on network printers, a printer plugged directly into a PC would not be vulnerable.

The attack is possible because most browsers can connect to the networking port used by most printers to look for new print jobs. So by using the browser as a stepping stone, attackers are able to connect with something they should never be able to reach: a printer on the local area network.

While nobody had previously demonstrated this particular hack, Weaver's research is based on two concepts that are well-known to Web security researchers: cross-site scripting attacks and vulnerabilities in the way browsers handle the Internet Protocol. "There is no precedent for [this hack]," said Robert Hansen, CEO of Web security consultancy SecTheory and owner of the Ha.ckers.org website. "But ... what he did was marry two different concepts that we've been talking about for a long time."

And if hackers figure out a way to make printers send out information about their print jobs to the Internet, Weaver's hack could have even more profound security implications, Hansen said.

Researchers have already shown how the browser can be used as a gateway to reach mail or VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) servers. They believe that the browser, with its ability to connect the Internet at large to the local area network, will be an increasingly important source of network attacks. "There are definitely a lot more exploits to be found," Hansen said.

Browser developers are already aware of the problem.

The Firefox browser blocks ports known to be associated with known security vulnerabilities, but it leaves many of them open because Web developers often use these ports in Web testing, said Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla's vice president of engineering, via instant message. "If this is a new problem, we can easily add 9100 to the blacklist," he said. "Folks here haven't done enough analysis to understand the impact yet."

Weaver said concerns that his research might unleash a new blight on the Internet caused him to hesitate before publishing his paper and hold off on publishing the complete exploit code.

By Wednesday he'd already received his first request from someone asking to look at his software -- someone saying he needed to show it to his manager in order to prove that it was a real issue. Weaver said he suspects the inquiry may have come from a spammer.

So will we see cross-site printer spam flying around our networks anytime soon?

Weaver believes there's a good chance of that happening. "Spammers will try anything," he said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?