Epson has announced an extreme solution to the problem of users who print sensitive documents to network queues but then forget to pick them up - a printer that requires a smartcard before it will print.

Documents to be printed using the EpsonNet Authentication Print system are first stored on a server much as they would be with any network print queue. But where a conventional print queue simply spools the documents in the correct driver format, the Epson system holds them on the server until a user causes the job to be printed by presenting one of a number of types of access cards - contactless or proximity smartcards are supported.

According to Epson, the technology should interest companies in a range of sectors such as banking, healthcare, education, hotels and, inevitably, the military, basically anyone who has cause to worry about the undisciplined use of laser printers.

The kit comprises an interface card, which slots into the printer itself, a contactless card reader and 10 swipe cards, and requires server management software. Epson models supported include the EPL-N2550, EPL-N3000, Aculaser 2600, Aculaser C2600, Aculaser C3800, Aculaser C4200, and Aculaser C9100.

“EpsonNet Authentication Print & Server products provide a viable and cost-effective solution for any business or organisation, regardless of scale. With this new innovation, Epson is meeting the demands of a range of markets where document security is of paramount importance,” said Epson UK’s Mark Karsey.

Some will be cynical that a printer company is looking for new, costly proprietary add-ons for a technology most IT staff already hate, but it is equally true that paper documents are both essential to every organisation and highly insecure.

Few security seminars devote much time warning that printed information can easily fall into the wrong hands, despite the fact that a significant percentage of the documents that spew from the average corporate network printer in any one day probably fall into the ‘sensitive’ category.

Assuming that companies can face the hassle of managing yet another piece of insecure hardware – the smartcards – this system could have some advantages. The issue it addresses is certainly on the rise for all sorts of reasons, including regulatory compliance.

The system is relatively expensive on a per-printer basis – each printer kit costs £567 (ex VAT) – but it is likely that an organisation would only need a small number of printers to be secured per site. The EpsonNet Authentication Server software costs £707.

Thus far, printer security concerns haven’t always gone much beyond stopping users gaining access to print queues themselves. Last May, a worm was reported by one security vendor that attempted to print a picture of an owl from infected PCs as an elaborate practical joke, while more recently a security researcher published details on how to spam companies using their own printers.