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Can printers store personal information?

Posted by Edward Drummond on Fri, Nov 02, 2012

describe the imageHi Techie

I have an old HP scanner/fax/printer. I recently heard that my printer can store your personal info inside somewhere and you should remove it before getting rid of it? I called HP and they said they don’t think that it could store anything. I want to believe them, but I also want to be sure.  Help! – Jane

 Hi Jane,

There are some cases where a printer could be storing lots of information about you, but unless you spent thousands of dollars on a commercial grade network copier/scanner/printer (think traditional office copier), you don't have to worry about your past print, copy and scan jobs as there won't be a hard drive that automatically stored what was sent to it.

On most home printers, any and all memory the printer has of a print job is stored via 'volatile' memory, which is storage that gets flushed whenever we turn off our printer or send another job to it. It is possible, however, that you stored somewhat sensitive information when you first setup your device, especially if it has the ability to fax.  This information may include your fax number, personal phone numbers and any saved fax numbers you might store in the “speed dial” function.  You can typically find out what information is actually stored by checking the printer’s setup menu.  The process is different for each printer, so I would suggest checking the printed manual or the online manual for your printer.  Most manufacturers provide digital copies of the manual for free on their websites. If your printer does have a speed dial function which has information stored, the manual typically provides a reset process to return the printer back to full factory settings.

Corporate printer/copier/scanners (the big ones) sometimes use internal hard drives to store items that are copied or scanned for a variety of reasons that improve performance and reliability, especially for very large document scans or copy jobs.  

Many stories have surfaced over the years of the ability to recover information from hard drives that were installed in commercial copier/scanners that contain a plethora of sensitive information.  In some tests of these big units, information was recovered typically with only 15 minutes of work.  With this in mind, everyone should be careful what personal records you copy or scan at work, since you don’t have any idea if the internal hard drive will be properly scrubbed by a trusted technician before it gets returned, sold or recycled.

Business owners should consider having the hard drive scrubbed or removed from their commercial copier/scanners before selling, returning or recycling it to help protect everyone that has ever used it.

If you need help finding your manual, or are concerned about your digital devices and the information they store, contact our store and we can help you.



The Techie

Tags: Dirty little tech secrets, external hard drives, Protection, privacy, Ask-a-techie, Security