Digital Photocopiers Store Everything They Scan: Report

Dennis Faas's picture

The digital photocopier in your home or office could offer a hacker a gateway to your personal or sensitive data. Unbeknownst to many, nearly every digital copier built since 2002 contains a hard drive -- similar to the one in your personal computer -- that stores images of every document copied, scanned, or emailed by the machine.

Company Warns of Risks Associated with Digital Copiers

Digital Copier Security, a Sacramento-based business known for their hard-drive scrubbing software 'INFOSWEEP', has been trying to warn people about the potential risk with little luck.

A CBS News investigation found that it's easy to buy a used copier loaded with information such as social security numbers, birth certificates, bank records and income tax forms. Two digital copiers, used by the Buffalo Police, proved to be extremely revealing.

By pulling the hard drives out of the copiers and using forensic software that is available on the Internet, tens of thousands of documents were downloaded in less than 12 hours.

Note that digital photocopiers differ from your run-of-the-mill scanner. Digital photocopiers are also known as an MFP (multi function product / peripheral / printer) or MFD (multi function device) and are able to function on their own, without being hooked up to a computer. The difference here is that a digital scanner requires an explicit PC connection to function.

Digital Copiers are Essentially Computers

Another machine revealed plans for a building near Ground Zero in Manhattan, 95 pages of pay stubs with names, addresses, and Social Security numbers, and $40,000 in copied checks.

A fourth machine that previously belonged to a New York Insurance company contained 300 pages of individual medical records, including drug prescriptions, blood test results, and a cancer diagnosis -- a potentially serious breach of federal privacy law. (Source:

Ira Winkler, a former analyst for the National Security Agency, and leading expert on digital security, told CBS that you have to take some basic responsibility and know that these copiers are actually computers that need to be cleaned up.

Many Unaware of Copiers Have Hard Drives

Many are unaware of the potential risks involved with digital copiers. A 2008 survey on copier security commissioned by Sharp found that 60 percent of Americans are unaware that copiers store images on a hard drive.

Sharp tried warning consumers about the simple act of copying, but those warnings have fallen on deaf ears.

All the major digital copier manufacturers told CBS they offer security or encryption packages on their products. Sharp offers a product that will automatically erase images from the hard drive for $500.

Many businesses are unwilling to pay for such protection, and the average American remains oblivious to the dangers posed by digital copiers. For someone looking to steal credit card or social security numbers, the ignorance is bliss.

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