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Main article: Office equipment

All topics: 10

Flawed office printers are a silent but serious target for hackers

16:00 | 8 August

You probably don’t think too much about your humble office printer. But they’re a prime target for hackers, if any of the dozens of vulnerabilities found by security researchers are anything to go by.

The latest research by the NCC Group just revealed at the Def Con security conference shows just how easy of a target office printers can be.

Think about it: office printers at some of the largest organizations in finance, government and tech all print corporate secrets — and classified material — and often keep a recorded copy in their memory. Printers are also complicated devices — more so than most people realize — with multiple internet-connected components, networking protocols, printer languages and fonts, and connected apps and devices, all of which have vulnerabilities.

No wonder they’re a target; office printers are a treasure trove of sensitive data. And because they often come with a web-based interface or an internet connection, they have a huge attack surface, making them easy to hack.

In the course of three months’ work, researchers Daniel Romero and Mario Rivas found and reported 45 separate vulnerabilities from six of the largest printer makers — HP, Lexmark, Brother, Xerox, Ricoh, and Kyocera — which could have allowed attackers to, among other things, siphon off copies of print jobs to an attacker controlled server.

They also showed they could hijacked and enlist vulnerable printers into botnets — used to overload websites with junk internet traffic. Or, with little effort, they could brick the printers completely, potentially causing havoc for business operations.

“Suppose a criminal developed a work that sought to compromise and permanently corrupt every vulnerable printer; this would severely impact the world’s ability to print, and could be catastrophic for affected sectors that rely heavily on printed documents, such as healthcare, legal and financial services,” said Romero and Rivas.

Not only that, printers can also be used as a way to gain a “method of persistence on a network,” the researchers said, allowing them to gain deeper access into a corporate network from an easy point of entry.

Because in most cases printers aren’t protected by anti-malware services like desktops and laptops, a malicious attacker could gain a permanent backdoor on the devices, giving them long-term access to a target corporate network.

When the researchers reported the bugs, they received mixed responses from the companies. Although every printer maker has since fixed the bugs they found, the researchers said some printer makers didn’t have a way to disclose the vulnerabilities they found, leaving them stranded and unable to make contact with some companies for more than two months.

Lexmark, which fixed nine vulnerabilities and issued its own security advisories, received a special mention for its “mature” vulnerability disclosure effort.

HP also issued a security advisory noting the five bugs it received and later fixed.

But the researchers said there are “probably more” bugs ready to be found. “We stopped searching after a few vulnerabilities,” they said. What makes matters worse is that most printer makers share code from one device to another, likely vastly expanding the number of devices affected by a single vulnerability.

Maybe next time, think before you print.

 


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XYZPrinting announces the da Vinci Color Mini

17:24 | 15 August

XYZPrinting may have finally cracked the color 3D printing code. Their latest machine, the $1,599 da Vinci Color Mini is a full color printer that uses three CMY ink cartridges to stain the filament as it is extruded, allowing for up to 15 million color combinations.

The printer is currently available for pre-order on Indiegogo for $999.

The printer can build objects 5.1″ x 5.1″ x 5.1″ in size and it can print PLA or PETG. A small ink cartridge stains the 3D Color-inkjet PLA as it comes out, creating truly colorful objects.

“Desktop full-color 3D printing is here. Now, consumers can purchase an easy-to-operate, affordable, compact full-color 3D printer for $30,000 less than market rate. This is revolutionary because we are giving the public access to technology that was once only available to industry professionals,” said Simon Shen, CEO of XYZprinting.

The new system is aimed at educational and home markets and, at less than a $1,000, it hits a unique and important sweet spot in terms of price. While the prints aren’t perfect, being able to print in full color for the price of a nicer single color 3D printer is pretty impressive.

 


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A digitizing David takes on photo-scanning Goliath

19:53 | 29 December

 Mitch Goldstone loves photo scanning. His business, ScanMyPhotos, does what it says on the tin: you send photos to the company and, using high speed scanners and special software, his team digitizes your photos, sticks them onto a USB key or online, and sends them back. He is proud of his business. Thanks to his scanners he’s helped users save their photos from tornadoes, floods, and theft. Read More

 


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XYZPrinting announces a $3,000 full-color 3D printer

19:00 | 31 August

 Full-color 3D printing at home has long been a wild-eyed dream of consumers and hobbyists alike. Thus far it’s been fun to print out little trinkets in a single color, but to create something more akin to a painted action figure would be a game-changer. And, thanks to inkject technology, we just might have reached that milestone. XYZprinting, the maker of the popular Da Vinci line of… Read More

 


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The Printrbelt lets you print multiple objects on, well, a belt

13:03 | 3 July

A month ago I brought you the Blackbelt, a belt-driven 3D printer with an “infinite Z” meaning you can print really long objects or multiple objects in the same print job. Now there’s a new printer on the block, and it looks like it’s blowing the Blackbelt out of the proverbial 3D printing water.

The Printrbelt is basically a 3D printer that prints onto a moving platform. As the object is completed, it moves down the belt slightly along the Z axis and then pops the object off the belt when it is done. The printer prints at a surprising angle and instead of creating a top-down object it creates angled cross sections of the object as it spools down the belt.

The team is building the printers now and is ready to ship as soon as they get pre-orders. The $1,699.15 price tag, however, is what really sets the system apart. Unlike the Blackbelt, this sub-$2,000 printer can print multiple objects or, if you’re careful, one big object for about the price of a good, finite-X 3D printer.

The team is building them to order. “We will make these one at a time and START shipping each one in order, beginning in 2 weeks,” they write. “In the next few weeks, we will ramp up production until the lead time drops to next day. There is no way to predict when you will get yours, since it is determined by the initial sales.”

The printer outputs at a .2mm layer height and prints standard PLA onto a heated bed for easy removal. It runs Polar3D’s layout and slicing engine. In short, if you want an infinite-Z 3D printer at a non-infinite-Z price, this might be your best bet.

 


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The WriteyDesk is a desk you can write on

16:27 | 5 May

Whether you’re an unsung mathematical genius with a penchant for writing complex equations all over everything or a damn vandal, you’ll find the WriteyDesk quite useful. This test is essentially a big whiteboard that upon which you can write, draw, or sketch and it’s erasable. It comes in white or “birch” and is $300 on Kickstarter ($400 when it hits retail).

“But, guy writing about a desk you can write on,” you say. “What happens if you smudge the ink?” I don’t know but you’d best be careful. I can imagine a lifetime of stained shirt sleeves and wrists with this thing if you’re not properly trained in the horizontal dry erase sketching arts.

This product was made by the same guys who made the paint that turns walls into whiteboards. They’re backed by Mark Cuban.

The team is trying to raise $25,000 on Kickstarter and it’s slow going so far but if you want to get a deal on a work surface that doubles as a white board so you, too, can write arcane equations and/or draw rude pictures on your desk then this is the item for you.

 


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The $300 New Matter Mod-T is more a toy than a 3D printer (but that’s OK)

20:20 | 14 December

scaled-6018 As 3D printing moves from the realm of hackers and hobbyists into the commonplace it’s clear that there is room for a 3D printer for students, kids, and schools. While many in the space are going for that lucrative if price-sensitive market, I think New Matter may have nearly nailed it with their Mod-T. This super-simple printer uses PLA to produce items that are not nearly as polished… Read More

 


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The Markforged Mark X lets you teleport precision custom parts from designer to printer

00:31 | 12 October

The promise of 3D printing has been kind of a dud. Aside from a few cool Yoda heads and some small plastic pieces, there have been no “indie” players doing much interesting in the space except Markforged. Markforged is a Boston company we featured last year that makes carbon-fiber reinforced plastic parts using traditional 3D-printing techniques. This means the objects they print are stronger, lighter and more resilient than steel.

Now they’ve added “more precise” to that list. The Markforged Mark X is a unique 3D printer that uses laser scanning to ensure pieces that come off the machine are precisely as ordered. In other words, you can send objects that will get the “the strength and quality you’re expecting,” says founder Greg Mark, an aerospace engineer and MIT grad.

“We invented Continuous fiber reinforcement (10 issued patents), and in-process laser-micrometer quality control,” he said. “We’ve also pushed the surface finish of plastic extrusion to approach the surface finish of SLA. Now there’s one machine that combines the strength, surface finish, and quality control to enable end use parts. Supply chains will never be the same.”

Essentially the system prints very fine, very strong objects and constantly tests them for structural accuracy. When you send an object to the $68,000 printer, it ejects exactly the part you requested with exactly the right measurements.

“The in-process quality control is based off a laser micrometer integrated into the print head. With 1 micron Z axis resolution, and 50 micron X/Y resolution, you get high-resolution scans of your part, which you can pull dimensions off of in real time or use to check the accuracy of the part,” said Mark.

The system has two print heads, one for plastic and one for carbon fiber. You can set the hardness of the object while you manufacture it and, more importantly, you can control how light the object is. I’ve seen many Markforged products and they’re as solid as steel but as light as plastic. They’re surprisingly cool. Thanks to the measurement system you can basically send objects to a printer in your office or a thousand miles away and ensure that the object that comes out is exactly as you designed it and has unrivaled strength. In other words, instead of sending a milled piece of steel you can send and print a digital file.

Current Markforged owners will get a discount on the Mark X but, given this thing is almost $70,000, I doubt many hobbyists will pick one up. It’s still one of the coolest implementations of 3D printing I’ve seen, however, and it’s pretty darn close to teleportation.

 


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Omni Calculator brings math to the masses

17:53 | 24 June

There are some men who want to watch the the world burn and others who want to offer it easily customizable embedded calculators. Mateusz Mucha belongs to the latter camp.

Mucha is a sociologist by training who has built multiple small startups. His latest project, Omni Calculator, is completely bootstrapped and has three employees building clever calculators for various formulae.

“We have all sorts of simple math problems — ‘Can this business work out?,’ ‘Can I afford to buy this house?,’ ‘How many bricks do I need for my patio?,’ ‘How much ibuprofen should this kid receive?'” said Mucha. “But when people can’t or won’t do the math they make poor decisions based on hunches where they should rely on hard numbers. They start businesses that have no future, buy houses they can’t afford or exit the European Union when it makes no freaking sense.”

Mucha’s product lets you create your own custom calculators and currently supports a number of helpful formulas, including BMI calculations, unit conversions and mortgage calculations. The current version is fairly limited, but he is building a customization system that will let anyone solve problems on-the-fly. For example, he made a wire-transfer calculator in a few minutes by taking a few common variables and connecting them using a drag-and-drop interface.

Why do you need this? Mucha believes that real estate, finance and tech users will love his product, and the ability to add simple calculators to blog posts can really add value to content. He also thinks they can solve nearly every basic problem there is. “We only need one user that’s pissed off enough to spend two minutes on creating a calculator for it,” he said.

The mobile app has 270,000 monthly active users and he’s seen 8,500 weekly users on the website during pre-launch beta. He has one enterprise client. His mission, not unlike those who wish to watch the world burn, is simple: to bring math back into our brains.

 


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HP’s 3D printers pave the way for an interesting future

19:26 | 17 May

In the two years since HP announced it was entering the 3D printing space speculation arose regarding what exactly the PC giant would launch? Home 3D printers for the masses? All-in-one manufacturing machines? Amazing teleportation devices? Nope. They launched a big printer for industrial users that prints in full color in a way that is unique in the industry. The bottom line? HP made an inkjet printer for solid objects.

The company had to start somewhere. This new printer has some impressive specs, even at $130,000. It currently prints black nylon at “340 million 3D pixels or voxels per second” by laying down a layer of nylon powder, coloring it using HP’s inkjet-like technology, and then fusing it with energy. This means you can print things 25% faster than standard printers and in a wider array of colors than is currently available. As Peter Weijmarshausen of Shapeways notes, “We know that better quality, lead times of 1 or 2 days and lower prices are exactly what the market needs.”

This is just the beginning. I suspect HP is trying to build the office copy machine for small manufacturing businesses. By allowing you to create parts quickly for pennies a print they are adding true mini-manufacturing capabilities to small businesses and improving lead times for designers in larger shops. They write (the sentence fragments below are sic):

HP’s vision for 3D printing is the revolution of part manufacturing (how parts are made) and the part distribution supply chain (where and when parts are made). In the near term, accelerating the creative process by making far more useful parts available to a much broader audience. And in the longer term, disrupting supply chains with 3D printing technology. In order for that disruption to occur, there must be significant changes in the economics of 3D printing and in the standards for maintaining quality.

In other words they want these parts to go into finished products and not just act as easy-to-print prototypes.

This isn’t exactly what the world was expecting. I think the original expectations from HP for a far more egalitarian system that would provide a 3D printer on every school desk. However, given the current 3D-printing climate, something like this priced at well below competing printers is a good choice as a pioneering solution. The inkjet feature – essentially a system for painting nylon before its fused – is clever and the products it produces are sufficiently unique that I could see this as part of a 3D printing lab’s customer offerings along with other solutions.

To be clear this isn’t “full” color – yet. The prints are still limited to swathes of color and I suspect the coloring process slows things down slightly. However a speedy single color product is still better than the current industrial offerings. Now we just have to see if the 3D printer ink will end up costing more than the printers.

I’ll admit that I originally thought I would scoff at HP’s 3D printers. The company hasn’t innovated in a meaningful, visible way for nearly two decades. While I’m sure there was plenty of exciting stuff behind the scenes the fact that this (and their new venture arm) is the only sign of life coming out of a company that once defined disruption is pretty sad.

But all is not lost. The new HP Multi Jet Fusion technology is definitely interesting and it puts HP in the running. As it stands the only way to print a colored 3D object right now is either with an MCor paper printer – it essentially paints the edges of a piece of sliced paper – or via a lengthy combination of automatic and manual dying. This solution is far more efficient than I expected to see.

In the end HP’s foray into 3D printing is first a way to escape the trap of falling commodity 2D printing profits and, second, a way to show the world it still exists. When the company split into enterprise and consumer companies things didn’t look good for the consumer business. While HPE beat expectations, HPQ, the company’s consumer arm, was volatile at best. Currently the story is that 3D printers could revive HP’s consumer business. Instead I’d say 3D printing will push HP into an entirely new era, allowing them to abandon the commodity PC and printer hardware that has thus far been an albatross around their necks.

 


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