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Is remote printing secure?


I use a printer at the office that is hooked to the network. Am I correct
that there is a print job log that shows what each printer in the office
prints? Or, can only a separate network server create print job logs. If any
network automatically does show a print job by any of the office computers,
what are some basic information shown in the log and can an administrator print
a document that has been printed if they see it on a print job log?

Yes, there can be logs. No, previously printed documents are not saved in a way
that they could be re-printed or viewed again later.

However (isn’t there’s always a “however”?), depending on your level of
concern, printing may not be as secure as we casually assume.

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First the log.

The computer that a printer is connected to can be configured to log all
printing events to the System log. You can use Window’s Event Viewer on that
machine to see what documents have been printed, and by what user.

For example, I just printed a test document, and in the event log I found

Printing Event in the Event Log

That log can contain the name of your document, as well as the computer name
and user name of the account printing it. If the printer is shared, of course
the computer name would be the name of the remote computer accessing the shared

So, yes, while logs aren’t guaranteed to exist (mine was off by default),
they certainly can be enabled, and can contain some interesting

Next we need to examine exactly how printing works.

When you print a document it invokes something called the “print spooler”.
Rather than printing directly to the printer, the information that would be
sent to the printer is actually written to (or “spooled”) to disk, and sent on
from there. Your application writes the printed document to the print spooler
where it’s placed in the queue of documents waiting to be printed. As prior
documents finish printing yours moves ahead in the list, and finally prints
when its turn comes.

If the printer is remote – meaning that you’re printing on machine A to a
printer connected to and shared by machine B, then your document’s print data
is written to the spooler file on machine B.

Regardless of where the spooled file lives, once your document has been
printed, that file is deleted. There’s no record of its content kept, and
there’s no way to simply say “print it again”.

Or is there?

This is where judicious paranoia might set in.

We all know by now that files aren’t really deleted, the disk space they
used is simply marked as “available to be overwritten”. Until that disk space
is overwritten – you guessed it – the data could be
recovered. It wouldn’t be easy, and on a busy system it might not even be
likely, but there is a possibility.

(Note that I’m talking about printers “shared” through another Windows
computer. Printers attached directly to a network may, or may not, contain a
log, and may, or may not, spool the documents to internal storage in a way that
might be recovered later. It all depends on their configuration and

So, what can you do?

Nothing, really. When you send data to another computer, any other computer,
you’re ultimately entrusting the owner of that computer with the possibility of
full access to your data and printing to a shared printer is no different.

This is one case where even encryption won’t help; your printed document
still needs to be decrypted on the remote computer in order to be

If you really need to keep that data super secure and avoid even
the slimmest chance of recovery by others, then the only real approach would be
to print it only on a computer that you control. (And consider securely wiping
the disk’s free space when you’re done, just in case.)

Do this

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