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How To Prevent a Spooling Attack

How To Prevent a Spooling Attack

This entry was posted on by Pavel Odnoletkov.
Close-Up View of System Hacking

For the average computer user, it’s a little-known fact that using a home or office printer creates a highly vulnerable situation that can be easily exploited by garden-variety hackers. However, in the computer industry, this vulnerability has been known about and wrestled with for years. The problem is the Microsoft service known as Print Spooler. Because this complex and buggy service is the default setting on virtually every PC connected to a printer, it’s an attractive target for cybercriminals. Spooling attacks have been happening for decades – and they’re still happening. If you want to learn how to prevent a spooling attack, we’ve put together this list of tips.

Why are Spooling Attacks so Common?

As mentioned, Microsoft’s Print Spooler service is used by the vast majority of printers around the world. On top of that, the complex coding that constitutes the software is over 20 years old and rife with numerous flaws and bugs. Combined with the fact that the Print Spooler provides users with administrator-level privileges, it means that anyone who hacks into the Print Spooler can control any machine connected to the printer network. This confluence of vulnerabilities makes spooling attacks an attractive scheme for even the most novice of hackers.

What Happens During a Print Spooling Attack?

Once a hacker has gained administrator privileges, they can gain control of any computer or server attached to the network serviced by the Print Spooler. This control could allow the cybercriminal to modify or delete code, install malware and ransomware, steal information, run malicious programs and maintain control of the network from a remote location. Several famously named cybercriminal attacks, such as Stuxnet and PrintNightmare, have exploited the Print Spooler service to install malware and ransomware programs in important institutional computer networks.

How To Prevent a Spooling Attack

Because the Print Spooler is the default setting for the majority of the world’s printer setups, the quickest, most likely fix to prevent a spooling attack is to disable the Print Spooler service on any computer or server that’s connected to the internet. It’s been found that 90% of servers don’t require the Print Spooler service to function properly.

In large networks, which are more likely to be attacked, it’s been found that some of the most vulnerable pieces of hardware don’t require the Print Spooler service, but still have it enabled as a default. Domain controllers, Active Directory servers, member servers and computers that don’t need access to a printer should all have the Print Spooler service disabled.

For those more sensitive machines and servers that do require some type of print spooling, it makes sense to re-equip them with a non-Microsoft print spooling service.

It can also be prudent to restrict user access to the Print Spooler service to only those who require it. This can help prevent unauthorized users from exploiting the vulnerabilities of the service.

Staying on top of patches and software updates can also help minimize the risk of attack. However, there have been cases where the updates or patches released by Microsoft don’t completely rectify the problem or even cause more problems. For this reason, it’s important to back up your systems before attempting to use patches or install updates.

Monitoring PrintService log entries will allow you to identify if you’ve been targeted by an attacker. In fact, this need for monitoring logs is one of the reasons why Print Spooler attacks are so successful. Monitoring logs can be a tedious process that often gets shuffled to the bottom of the To-Do list and can allow exploitations to occur unnoticed.

To learn more about protecting your business from spooling and other cyber-attacks, get a free assessment today.

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Pavel Odnoletkov
Pavel Odnoletkov
Head of Marketing at MBC Managed IT Services
With more than 20 years of experience, Pavel leads MBC’s marketing efforts.
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