With all the technology at our fingertips in today’s world, it can be hard to keep track of how certain devices work and store our information.
Knowing where information is stored, how long it’s there, and how to manage it on your printer can help keep your personal and sensitive information safe.
Printers have both volatile and non-volatile memory that store the image of what is to be printed and keeps it available in case the printer runs out of toner or experiences paper jams. Volatile memory gets cleared when the printer is turned off while non-volatile memory remains available until it is deleted or overwritten.
Before you use your printer to print or scan sensitive documents, or before you plan to give away or sell an old printer, ensure you clear the memory to get rid of any sensitive information.
Types of memory found in printers
Today’s printers handle the storage of data much like computers and mobile devices, they have both volatile and non-volatile memory.
Volatile memory, commonly referred to as RAM (Random Access Memory), stores data and images for a short period of time, and gets erased immediately after you unplug or shut down the printer.
Non-volatile memory acts much like a computer’s hard drive. This memory sticks around until it is deleted. Most printers use non-volatile memory in what’s known as a circular buffer. In a circular buffer, data is written in a revolving manner until it starts back at the beginning.
Why printers need memory
Printers need memory in order to make the printing process faster and more efficient, especially if they are used in a network where there are several jobs in the queue. Memory also helps printers replicate complicated images that require a variety of complex color combinations. Printers achieve this by downloading the entire program of what needs to be printed before the physical printing process actually begins.
Additionally, because of the variety of tasks and software available in today’s technologically advanced world, printers are often able to run multiple different printing languages. Memory helps printers process the necessary information without slowing down the printing process.
Do printers keep print history?
Most printers keep printed document history. By default, most printers don’t automatically delete the document history after it has been printed unless this feature is disabled.
Printers do keep print history to a certain degree. How much or how long printers keep previously printed documents will depend on the printer itself, what operating system you’re using, and how you have set up the printer.
There are ways to enable document logging through your device management settings by enabling print history logging. Print history can also be logged and stored through third-party software.
Keeping a log of print history can be helpful for retrieving documents that you need to print again or finding documents that were misplaced.
There are many benefits to storing print history, but you’ll want to make sure to limit storing sensitive documents such as credit card information, banking documents, and other personally identifiable information, especially on a shared or public printer.
How to clear a printer’s memory
Because printers store memory in two different ways (volatile and nonvolatile), there are two easy ways to clear a printer’s memory.
To clear volatile memory, all you’ll need to do is completely power off and unplug your printer for at least 60 seconds. This will immediately clear the printer’s volatile memory.
If you want to clear a printer’s non-volatile memory, you can do so by simply printing off enough non-sensitive or non-important documents to overwrite what’s already on the memory. For most desktop and home printers, this may only take about 5 to 10 documents, but if it’s a printer with larger memory, you may need to print more.
To save yourself some money on ink, make sure to print these throw-away documents with old ink cartridges. With the high cost of printer ink, there’s little sense in printing off a handful of documents that are only intended to clear the memory with perfectly good ink.
For more complex printers, additional steps to clear memory may be required. If you’re attempting to clear the memory of a printer that’s not a common home or office printer, make sure to do some research into the manufacturer’s guidelines on clearing memory for the specific printer model.
Upgrading Your printer’s memory
If you’re finding it difficult to print complex documents, upgrading your printer’s memory may be worthwhile.
You can upgrade printer memory by installing memory modules that have a higher RAM capacity. However, you have to make sure the upgrade memory module you pick is specific to your printer to avoid compatibility issues.
On average, printer memory modules can cost anywhere from $20-$60 depending on the model and how much RAM capacity it has. If you need to print complex or detailed documents such as high-resolution photographs, graphics, maps, and engineering plans, upgrading your printer’s memory will benefit you greatly.
The following video shows the process of upgrading printer memory:
Can a printer get hacked?
The unfortunate thing is that printers can get hacked and give the hacker access to information that’s stored in memory and potentially control of the printer as well as other devices connected to it. This is why it’s important to clear your printer’s memory after printing or scanning sensitive personal documents.
First, hackers can insert flash or other drives into a printer to bug it with malware, but this is less likely as they will have to be physically present to do so.
More likely is for hackers to infiltrate your printer wirelessly. This is most commonly achieved through Wi-Fi-enabled printers. To combat this, use a wired connection if possible and limit the use of wireless printing unless you have other security measures such as a VPN (Virtually Private Network).
The ill intentions of thieves looking to obtain your sensitive information is yet another reason why it’s important to clear your printer’s memory periodically.
More importantly, memory should be cleared after printing or scanning personally identifiable information that could be used to access financial accounts or for identity theft.
Although you may not have realized it until now, printers can store data and do have memory. While this is done to our benefit to make printing faster, more efficient, and of higher quality, it can be targeted by those who wish to steal your personal information.
Keep these things in mind and make sure to make a habit of clearing and securing your printer’s memory. It could save you a lot of money, hassle, and headaches in the long run.