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What is remote printing and how does it work?

Remote printing allows you to use a printer without having access to the device itself. Remote print access can be useful, especially for employees working out of office, but it also comes with some risks. In this article, we explain how remote access printing works, and how you can print documents safely.

What is remote printing and how does it work?

What is remote printing?

Remote printing is the process of sending a print job from a device like a computer or a phone to a printer that is not directly connected to the device. This system is often used in buildings where people working across multiple areas want to use one local printer — at an office or school, for example.

Contrast this with non-remote printing, in which a user must directly connect their device to the printer using a cable that links the two pieces of hardware. This is a far more limiting setup, since users must be physically close to the printer to use it, and only one device can be linked to it at a time.

How remote printing works

Remote printing usually works via a wireless connection. When a user wishes to print files from their device, they send those files to a printer, which automatically prints them. The file transfer can take place through a variety of mediums, from a local Wi-Fi network to an email attachment.

In some cases, specialized software must be installed on the remote device that is sending the files, but this is not always essential. As you’ll see, many different options are available for printing remotely.

Different ways to print remotely

There are several methods that can be used to send files for remote printing:

  • Cloud printing: Cloud printing services, like Google Cloud Print, enable users to send print jobs to a cloud-connected remote printer from any location with internet access. The printer and the sending device don’t need to be on the same network, so you could technically print from anywhere.
  • Mobile printing apps: Many printer manufacturers offer mobile apps that facilitate printing remotely to their devices. This is a useful system, but it does limit you to using specific printers that are supported by an app.
  • Remote desktop access: Remote desktop (RDP) access lets a user view and operate their computer or office network without being physically present. Through an RDP interface, you could have your remote computer initiate a print job with a nearby printer.
  • Email-to-print: Some printers support email-to-print functionality. Users can send documents as email attachments to a designated printer email address, and the documents will automatically be printed.
  • Network-connected printers: Many printers allow for remote printing if they are on the same network as your device. This usually requires you to be relatively close to the printer — for example, elsewhere on the floor of an office — but does not involve direct wiring between devices.

Advantages of remote printing

Remote printing offers some clear advantages, especially in the age of remote working:

  • Convenience: Users can print from anywhere. Whether you’re just on the other side of the office or traveling abroad, you can still have important documents printed in your office or educational workplace with the tap of a button.
  • Time-saving: Print jobs can be initiated before you arrive in the printer’s location, allowing you to streamline your working processes. If your documents have already been sent for printing, you just need to pick them up, instead of waiting for each page to print.
  • Cost reduction: Remote printing can do away with the need for multiple physical printers, saving on equipment and maintenance costs. Instead of placing a printer on every floor of an office or in every classroom in a school, multiple users can rely on a single device.
  • Device flexibility: Remote printing lets you print from whatever device is most convenient for you, whether it’s your smartphone, your tablet, or your computer.

Security risks of remote printing

Remote printing does have some downsides, most notably the cybersecurity risks associated with it:

  • Data interception: Like any data sent over the internet, print jobs are susceptible to interception by malicious actors. If, for example, you send your files using unsecured Wi-Fi, or if the printer’s network has not been properly protected, hackers could steal sensitive information contained within those files.
  • Data breaches: Remote printing can result in data breaches if not carried out with the necessary security measures in place. For example, data from recent print jobs could be recovered from the printer itself, a sender could transmit their files to the wrong printer, or someone could physically lift the printed pages from the device’s output tray.
  • Printer vulnerabilities: Any device connected to a network could be used to gain access to other areas of the network if the device is not adequately secured. For example, if the software on your printer is not updated, a hacker could infect the printer with malware and then spread malware to other connected devices.
  • Malicious print jobs: If a remote printer is too easy to connect to, malicious actors could flood the device with traffic, making it inaccessible to genuine users. Alternatively, they could send offensive images or messages to the printer.

Best practices for safe remote printing

You can take the following steps to to lessen the security risks of remote printing:

  • Network security. Make sure the networks used by both printers and those sending files for printing are secure. Use firewalls, intrusion detection systems, encryption tools (like VPNs), and strong passwords to maintain a high level of network security.
  • Printer security. Keep printers updated with the latest firmware and security patches, and enforce proper access controls to prevent unauthorized access. Users should also be required to authenticate themselves before they send print jobs.
  • Print job purging: Configure printers to automatically purge print job data from their internal storage after printing. This prevents people from using hacking techniques to steal old stored printing data.
  • Use a VPN. Protect both your printers and the devices that use them with a virtual private network (VPN) by configuring a VPN on your router. NordVPN creates encrypted tunnels between devices and VPN servers, so even if a hacker can access the print data in transit, they won’t be able to view it.
  • Use NordVPN’s Meshnet remote access feature. Setting up Meshnet for 3D printing on your network could help you bypass the clumsy port forwarding process and secure your access to the printer.

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