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print servers and regulatory compliance

Posted on 2004-08-04
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Last Modified: 2008-01-09
i am looking for software that would i could install on a print server.  i would scan the content of documents coming in and match them against a "content database" and many attributes.  Depending on the content, it may block, reject, alert or overprint the document.

for example,
policy - do not print any documents with the words "confidential" and "sun" on the first page.

the application i describe, would send a message back to the user alerting him that he will require approval if he wants to print this document.

has anyone heard of this software?
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Question by:tamccann123
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hdhondt earned 100 total points
ID: 11722898
I strongly suspect it doesn't exist. And, even if it does, there are too many ways in which it will fail.

To give you some idea:

The printer could be a GDS printer, in which case no text shows up in the print file. If it is a PostScript printer the text may be there as individually placed characters (with multiple commands between the characters). Even if all else works, what if the offending text has been pasted in the document as a bitmap (an image, not text).
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by:hdhondt
ID: 11723300
Here's another way to attack the problem if your requirement is security, rather than the printer equivalent of NetNanny.

Some printers have a "secure print" mode, whereby the user has to go to the printer and enter a password before it will print. This is designed mainly for users who don't want anyone else to see their output. You could set up the driver to enforce secure mode, so no one without a password can print. Some printers also have a "job log" so you can check who printed what and when.

I know this is not what you're after, but it may be the closest you'll get.
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Author Comment

by:tamccann123
ID: 11723382
thanks for the input. i was thinking about doing the job on the print server, just looking at Word docs to start.  My goal here is to limit the prininting of sensitive companyinformation.  At this point, the only way I can achieve is to deal with some sort of rights management solution, which is costly and places undue burden on the end users.

If i put code on the print servers and scan the doc (I assume this is doable for many/most doc types), I could block most actions before they even arrive at the printer.  yes, there are ways to break many security programs and this is no exception, but for the vast majority of corporate documents, the do go to a print server first and are in generic word format.

more thoughts?

Has anyone else heard of such requests from other security or regulatory compliance officers?

thanks
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by:hdhondt
ID: 11725234
As I pointed out, it may work in some (maybe even most) cases but there will be many where scanning the print file will not find what you're looking for. Unfortunately, text as sent to the printer, does not need to bear any relationship to the content of the document, or to the way it looks to the eye. What is sent to the printer is *not* a Word document in any way or shape.

However, if you only use PCL printers and only worry about Microsoft Office documents, it'll probably work in most cases. But I still don't think you can buy such an application off the shelf.
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by:tamccann123
ID: 11728637
maybe you can help me on the flow here.  when i hit "print" on the desktop when i am in word.  i select a printer on the network, printer A with a path of printdocs.company.com (which i assume is the print server). what data is sent to the print server and then on to the printer?  Does the print server just route the message or does it have some job in the formatting? At what point is the "document" formatted for printing and when/where is it re-writable?

with regard to print servers, I know many companies use Windows and many other use Linux.  Is there a markethare leading software that most people run on Linux?
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by:hdhondt
ID: 11732021
It's the local PC that creates the printer code. This involves an interaction between the application and the driver, to the extent that similar looking documents in different applications do not produce the same printer code even when using the same driver.

The role of the print server is to pass that code on to the printer, usually without any modification to it. The server does not see the application or the document.

In some cases the server can add banner pages. In the case of a unix (linux) server,  other things can be done as well. In fact, someone with knowledge of unix could write an "input filter" to check for offending words in the job, and then put that job on hold, just by using utilities that ship with unix. Of course, the caveats in my previous posts still apply...

As for print server software on unix, most people simply use another of the standard utilities: lp or lpr. Both of these do everything most users require.
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Assisted Solution

by:wyliecoyoteuk
wyliecoyoteuk earned 100 total points
ID: 11897468
On a Linux server, you can use several simple tools, (awk,grep,sed, etc) to edit or filter text streams.

On Windows there are several applications that will do this,
http://www.download.com/Reform-Enterprise/3000-2064-10299109.html is one,
DocQmanager,  http://www.ati-uk.com/docQmanager.htm is another.

I use sed to susbstitute text in in forms from our linux database application, and Reform (via SMB printing) to route it to specific printers depending on content.

DocQmanager will , amongst other things, scan PS, or PCL code and route documents to different queues (including a "hold" queue) depending on content, based on simple scripts.

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by:wyliecoyoteuk
ID: 11897534
N.B. Hdhondt is correct in saying that data sent to GDI printers would fail to be interpreted, but most office printers these days are pcl3 or higher compatible, and DocQmanager is capable of screening these and sending alerts, or rejections, even local printers can be controlled via a client, and the whole setup can be monitored from one PC.


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by:hdhondt
ID: 12131875
No comment has been added to this question in more than 21 days, so it is now classified as abandoned..
I will leave a recommendation in the Cleanup topic area that this question is:
Split hdhondt & wyliecoyoteuk
Any objections should be posted here in the next 4 days. After that time, the question will be closed.

PLEASE DO NOT ACCEPT THIS COMMENT AS AN ANSWER!

hdhondt
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