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How to Securely Dispose of a Printer

How to Securely Dispose of a Printer

A few years ago a reader asked me a question that I couldn’t immediately answer. “I know that when you throw away an old computer, you’re supposed to make the personal information that resides on the hard drive inaccessible to the outside world,” he said. “I was wondering if this same problem arises when you throw away an old printer?”

It’s a good question. Certainly, it is necessary disinfect any computer you plan to donate or recycle, ensuring that none of your personal information remains. The same is true when you trade or sell a smartphone. Could these concerns also exist for printers? To understand this question, I turned to Mr. David StonePCMag’s longtime contributing editor for printers and scanners.

What type of data do printers contain?

“First, you need to distinguish between data types,” Stone said. “For most people, what is important would be what you print, fax or copy. Call it real data. The least important information would be stored email addresses and fax numbers. Call it contact information. contact.”

Stop and think for a moment about the most sensitive data you print, fax or copy. Tax returns? Legal documents? Medical records? Some medical offices prefer to communicate by fax, on the grounds that it is more secure than e-mail. But if the sensitive information is in the memory of the all-in-one device, it’s far from secure.

“The only time information stored on the printer can cause problems is if the printer has an internal disk or non-volatile memory,” he continued. “I also doubt there are any that have non-volatile memory for the actual data, but I can’t swear to it. There are some that may hold contact information in non-volatile memory.”

How to tell if your printer is storing data

Stone pointed out that the presence of certain features could indicate the presence of built-in storage in an older printer. Private printing, where the printer holds your document until it indicates that you are physically present to receive the print, seems to require local storage, as does the ability to reprint a file you previously printed . The ability to manage and rearrange the print queue via the printer’s built-in web page is another nod, as is the ability to hold or forward incoming faxes.

If you really want to check the sensitive data stored, Stone suggests unplugging your old printer, letting it sit for a while, then plugging it back in. No local storage? Then the data will probably be gone. “Note that in some cases the printer may use volatile memory with battery backup,” Stone added. “If so, it should be mentioned in the user guide.” In this case, he suggests leaving it unplugged for as long as the user guide says it’s too long.

Does your printer store your email?

Stone warns of an electronic recycling hazard I hadn’t thought of. “Multifunction printers that include a direct email feature (as opposed to those that call a customer to your PC), typically allow you to configure SMTP information, including your password, so you can send emails from the printer’s front panel,” he warned. “If you have this set up, be sure to remove the email and password before handing the printer over to someone else.”

He also pointed out that most expensive printer models that include a disk drive these days have privacy in mind. “Nearly all newer models include an erase disk feature for printer shutdown, and most include disk encryption, so if you remove the disk from the printer, you won’t be able to read the information stored there,” he explained.

Should you physically destroy an old printer?

If you’re getting rid of an old printer, it’s probably because the printer is broken or too old-fashioned. It’s unlikely there’s a hard drive inside, but if you’re really about to throw the device away, there are a few physical precautions you can take. Open it up, poke around, look for anything remotely resembling a hard drive. If you find one, take it out of the printer, take it out to the street, and hit it with a hammer until the inside vibrates nicely. (That’s very satisfying!). Now you can send the printer for e-recycling without any privacy concerns.

So is it safe to throw away your old printer?

Stone points out that modern printers can have additional connections to your other apps, more than just stored email IDs. For example, they can scan or print from cloud storage services such as Google Drive or DropBox. Before disposing of such a printer, you must break these connections. This may involve erasing a stored user name and password from the printer, or it may involve logging into the service and breaking the connection from that end.

Stone also notes that many major printer brands allow you to link your printer to an online business account. “For example,” he says, “I can create an Epson account that will allow me to print from anywhere in the world.” He noted that you don’t have to cancel the account, just unlink it from the outgoing printer. After all, you could get a new printer from the same company.

As for removing the hard drive from a printer and using it as a hockey puck, that’s still a valid hardware solution. “We may one day see a printer with an SSD for storage rather than an HDD,” he said, “but that hasn’t happened yet.”

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