Close-up of a person's hand replacing toner cartridges in a laser printer. There are four cartridges visible labeled with their respective colors: black, cyan, magenta, and yellow. The printer is open, showing the internal cartridge housing, indicating routine maintenance or replacement of printing supplies.

Think Before You Ink: Understanding the Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities of Using Third-Party Toner and Ink Cartridges

Businesses are constantly seeking ways when building their IT budget to optimize their expenses, cut costs, and divert savings to more crucial business functions — especially now, when 67% of Canadians are feeling anxiety about the state of our economy. One measure they commonly take is switching to a generic off-brand manufacturer for their printer’s toner and ink cartridges. 

While this may seem attractive because it can be more cost-effective and provide increased flexibility, this practice has downsides: quality inconsistency issues, lower colour fidelity, and poor image clarity. You’re also likelier to experience a printer malfunction, which may ultimately increase costs by disrupting operations and requiring repair or replacement.  

But most importantly, relying on third-party cartridges may expose you to data breaches with potentially devastating impacts. 2023’s average data breach cost was $4.45 million, a record high that increased by 15% during the previous three-year period.  

While organizations have digitized many of our operations, our printers are still vital to running our business. Yet these aren’t isolated devices – they connect to our entire IT infrastructure. As a result, we need to use them strategically so they contribute to a smoothly functioning ecosystem.  

Below, we’ll dive deeper into the cybersecurity vulnerabilities that stem from third-party cartridges and how your organization can protect your vital data from rising threats. 


What are the risks? 

You might be thinking, “It’s just toner! Why does this matter?” Unfortunately, non-OEM (original equipment manufacturer) cartridges can pose various risks to your organization’s operations.  

HP Inc. (HP) is now sounding the alarm about printer security after expanding its Bug Bounty program to include cartridges. In this program, they work with ethical hackers to expose any weaknesses in their security so they can address them before any malicious actors exploit them. They’ve found evidence that malicious actors can use third-party cartridges to access your device and then your entire network.   

It’s all about the chips inside. 

Typically, the designers of third-party cartridges use reprogrammable chips that leverage general-purpose processors. They see this as a selling point, touting the ability to reset chips remotely. While this may be more convenient and allow the companies to make quick updates, bad actors can also use the communication channels between the cartridge and printer to launch malicious code, use malware to change how your printer functions, or even move laterally across devices on inadequately protected networks that lack a robust data privacy framework.  

Unfortunately, you can’t always determine if a third-party cartridge company vetted its supply chain suppliers. As a result, it could arrive to you, the end user, already compromised. 


How can you avoid the risks? 

There are several steps that organizations can take to avoid the cyber security vulnerabilities that come from using third-party toner and ink cartridges.  

1) Know where your ink/toner is coming from.  

At its core, the most effective form of protection would be to buy from a trusted manufacturer and then stick with their brand of ink/toner. A reliable producer is a Tier One manufacturer like HP, which would prioritize data security at various stages of production. For example, HP uses tamper-resistant packaging to protect their cartridges as they move throughout the supply chain. They also rely on non-reprogrammable chips that use secure smart card technology, ensuring hackers can’t alter their proprietary code. 

For more information, check out this Original HP Cartridge Security Video 

2) Partner with a trusted procurement partner.  

Most people juggle various tasks in their daily work routine, leaving them with insufficient resources and time to construct a secure IT framework. To offload that work, consider working with a procurement specialist. They can play a crucial role in helping your business protect its supply chain – whether when procuring cartridges or other essential workplace tools.   

A procurement partner can help ensure that you build an IT ecosystem comprising high-quality, reliable, and compliant components. By leveraging their network of vetting suppliers, a reputable procurement partner to offer you access to genuine products from Tier 1 manufacturers 

3) Build a comprehensive data security strategy. 

Overall, businesses will be more likely to deter cyber criminals by proactively implementing a layered security approach. Consider establishing a device-centred Zero Trust Architecture, which can help prevent someone with bad intentions from wreaking havoc on your infrastructure, even if they hypothetically gained access to your systems.  

In this framework, you will have shifted from a perimeter-based defense to applying technologies that microsegment your network to prevent lateral movement. Your organization will also have the setup to continuously verify and validate every user, device, or identity as it attempts to gain entry to your data.   


Work with PC Corp to build a modern IT infrastructure 

A third-party cartridge may not be the straightforward, cost-effective fix you anticipate. However, businesses can benefit from developing a robust technology procurement plan. A trusted procurement partner can help you avoid a work life filled with outdated and incompatible tools that lead to inefficiency, maxed-out budgets, and the stress of dealing with cybersecurity incidents.   

At PC Corp, our IT procurement services offer you the level of cybersecurity businesses strive to achieve. We can help organizations across the province strategically invest in their IT infrastructure to keep their critical data safe and confidential.  

Contact us today to discuss how we can provide you with peace of mind about the state of your technology, allowing you to focus on your business’s growth and success.

Small Business