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Spamming printers from the Web? Researcher shows how

Discovery met with boundless enthusiasm from all quarters

By Robert McMillan
January 10, 2008 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - 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 Web site 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, based in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, described what he calls "cross site printing" in a research paper published Tuesday on the Ha.ckers.org Web site.

For a cross-site printing attack to work, a victim would have to visit either a malicious Web site 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 Web site. "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.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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