Whitelisting explained: why it's important for your printer

Xerox and McAfee work together to offer dynamic whitelisting technology – offering a higher level of security for embedded devices and protection against zero-day attacks.

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But what does all this actually mean? Read on as we explain the terminology - and why whitelisting is such an important part of your printing infrastructure, especially in a post-GDPR environment.

Firstly, what is an embedded system? It’s a computer system designed for a specific purpose – either a fixed capability or something programmable – found within a larger system. They are found all around us nowadays - there could be one in your car, your child’s toy, your mobile phone…your printer. Sometimes, embedded systems have no user interface because they perform one specific function. Alternatively, they could have complex graphical interfaces – like on your smart phone – so that you can perform a large number of functions.

Xerox are incorporating McAfee whitelisting technology into their devices to defend against both new and emerging threats to security. The technology means that devices suited to customers of all sizes are covered with out-of-the-box protection on their multifunction devices (MFPs).

So secondly, what is whitelisting? It’s a term that’s been around for more than 100 years, originally meaning ‘a list of people or things considered trustworthy’. The term’s usage has soared since 2000 with the advent of the digital revolution and it is now particularly associated with computing, networks and software.

Whitelisting in this sense is the practice of creating a list of authorised software applications that are allowed to be present and active on a particular computer system. Therefore, what it’s looking to do is to tell immediately if something new appears within the system that isn’t recognised and approved and therefore might be a threat. In tech-speak, whitelisting ensures that only safe, executable code can run on protected systems – which might be servers, cash machines and registers, mobile devices, or, in our case, your embedded systems and in particular, your printer.

In effect, once the whitelist is created, your printer is locked down at a baseline which works with your office environment and no new programme or code can get a look in, nor any unauthorised changes made. It means that malicious attackers can’t install new code into your device to try and breach your security defences.

You can also think of whitelisting as the better alternative to listing everything you want to prevent accessing your printer. It is much simpler and cleaner to do the opposite and list only the things you want to allow, especially as new threats come along all the time. Whitelisting would react to anything new and unauthorised rather than relying on systems to be updated with every new threat.

Thirdly, zero-day attacks. These are attacks that take advantage of a device vulnerability without an existing solution. So, for example, a malicious coder could create a worm that could ‘get into’ a system and do damage before a software company can create and distribute a patch to prevent that happening. However, with whitelisting technology, your printer already knows which pieces of code are trusted and will not add allow any unauthorised intrusions in. A new virus or worm designed to exploit any kind of vulnerability would not appear on the whitelist.

So, whitelisting is definitely a great addition to your MFP, helping you have peace of mind over some of your infrastructure endpoints. Even the smallest operations can suffer from security breaches, so whitelisting is as applicable to small business as it is to the largest companies. With the recent evolution of the Data Protection Act into the General Data Protection Regulation, the spotlight has been on security in recent months. Investing in an embedded system with market-leading security is one way to demonstrate how your business is serious about ‘privacy by design and by default’.

Contact us now to learn more.

Elizabeth Walne