Lift a Finger for Network Printer Security

By Ronald Pacchiano | Posted September 15, 2005

If you share a network printer with other people in your office, maintaining the confidentiality of printed documents can be difficult.

Consider the following scenario: You've just finished compiling a sensitive report, which shouldn't be seen by anyone outside of your department. Just as you send it to the printer, the phone rings, detaining you for 10 minutes. You then rush over to the printer to pick up your document, only to discover it's not there. Later that day you learn it had been removed inadvertently with another print job. So much for confidentiality.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent this situation from reoccurring. One is to add Silex Technology's SecurePrint: For My-Eyes Only Printing Security System to your network infrastructure.

Keep Print Jobs Secure with Biometrics
The SecurePrint system is made up of various hardware and software components (more on this later) that, when combined, create a secure, biometric network printing system. The system holds print jobs within the print queue until the authorized person can retrieve them from the printer. To release the print job, you place a finger on the fingerprint reader for verification. Once verified, the job is released and printed. This process ensures that printed documents will never be accidentally picked up or read by an unauthorized person.


The device server
SecurePrint system features a 4-port USB device server.

To minimize privacy concerns, the system doesn't actually store fingerprint images. Instead it relies on a standard interpreter concept known as "minutiae" for mapping key characteristics of the individual's finger. This process ensures accuracy, while maintaining privacy.

Our testing verified that the SecurePrint system does work as advertised. It never printed a job to an unauthorized person, and it did a decent job of recognizing a scanned fingerprint. However, this product is far from perfect and, as a result, we can't recommend it.

The reason for this is that from inception, the SecurePrint system wasn't designed for what it attempts to do. Instead it is an assortment of various hardware and software products cobbled together to accomplish a specific goal. As a result, the product feels forced and lacks the integrated feel of a well-engineered product.


The finger scanner
A scanner lets you add fingerprint data for biometric security.

The Components
Two hardware and four software components comprise the SecurePrint system. The hardware components include:

  • A Silex SX-5000U2 4-port USB device server: This is a device server, not a dedicated print server. So in addition to printers, the SX-5000U2 can support other USB devices like scanners and USB storage sticks
  • A FUS-200N USB fingerprint reader: You use the fingerprint to enroll people's fingerprint data onto a PC and to release the print jobs from the print queue

Then you have to install four separate software applications. These include the following:

  • Device Driver: Used to configure the USB device server's IP address on the network
  • SX Virtual Link: Establishes communication between PCs storing the authorized fingerprint data with the fingerprint reader.
  • STA-Print: Installed on each person's PC in order to define a specialized printer port on each computer

Finally, the SecurePrint application serves two purposes. First, it registers fingerprints into the system, and second, it authenticates fingerprints at the printer. By merging the various components together, the SecurePrint system ensures network printer security.

So What's the Problem?
The problem is the lack of real unification. For starters, the SecurePrint system doesn't have a centralized depository for storing everyone's fingerprint information. Instead, you have to enroll and store the fingerprints on each person's individual PC. This means that the SecurePrint software and the fingerprint reader need to be installed on the PC of every person who accesses the system. Since the standard SecurePrint package ships with only a single fingerprint reader, this is highly inefficient and time-consuming.

Plus, by loading the fingerprint reader software on the system, it replaces the standard Windows login screen with one from Sig-Tec software so that you can also use the fingerprint reader to log into your PC. Unfortunately, the reader is intended to connect to the device server, so unless you buy fingerprint reader for every PC (at a cost of about $149 each) the login screen feature is both useless and annoying.

Moreover, depending on the way you place your finger on the fingerprint scanner, it might not recognize you right away. When it does recognize you, it gives out an audible tone signifying that you've been successfully identified.

Otherwise, it displays a dialog box indicating that you weren't. This is problematic because when you're across the room attempting to access a print job, you can't hear or see any of these notifications. As a result, you could be standing at the printer for a couple of minutes wondering why the print job hasn't been released. A simple red and green indicator light built-in to the fingerprint reader would have resolved this issue.

We also ran into a problem installing the software. While installing the STA-Print component (the one that configures a port on the PC for the printer) we kept receiving an error message that read, The process cannot access the file JCPMON.DLL because it is being used by another process.

At this point it would shut down the installation. We finally got around this problem by going into the C:WINDOWSSYSTEM32 folder and renaming the JCPMON.DLL file. We then re-ran the STA-Print installation program, and it completed successfully.

As previously mentioned, once we had everything successfully installed, the system did work as advertised. When you attempt to print a job, you're notified that the SX Virtual Link program must be initiated before the job will print. You then start the SX Virtual Link program, which then associates the fingerprint profiles stored on your PC with the Fingerprint reader located at the printer. You go to the printer, place your finger on the reader to verify you're identity, and the printer prints your stored documents.

Although it works, it never feels as smooth or transparent as you'd expect — especially from a product theoretically designed for this very task.

Bottom Line
Despite its shortcomings, the SecurePrint, For My-Eyes Only Printing Security System keeps confidential print jobs away from unauthorized eyes. However, it's also not the cheapest solution available. The standard package, which includes the USB device server, one USB fingerprint reader and a five-person license, retails for $699.

A 10-person license costs $999 or $79 for each additional person. Plus there's the cost of additional fingerprint readers at $149 each.

While we can appreciate the need for a product like this, its shortcomings and cost make it a poor value. For our money, depending on the number of people who needed access to a secure printer, we'd give each person or department their own printer. Ink-jet printers are inexpensive; you can buy one for well under $100. An entry-level laser printer will set you back only a few hundred dollars each. In an office of five (like the basic package accounts for), this is a perfectly acceptable and cost-effective solution.

If, however, you feel that this biometric solution would be a good candidate for your network environment, then we encourage you to learn more about it by visiting the Silex Web site.

Pros
•Works as advertised
•Fingerprint Reader can also enhance PC Security

Cons
•No centralized management
•Expensive
•Comes with only one fingerprint reader

Ronald Pacchiano is a contributing writer for both SmallBusinessComputing.com and PracticallyNetworked.com.

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