HP has continued to release software updates for its Dynamic Security system that bricks its printers when they're used with third-party ink cartridges — an extremely controversial practice that has gotten the company hit with several lawsuits.
Now in an interview with CNBC, HP CEO Enrique Lores has shed some light on why the company pushes the maligned software. Based on Lores' responses, in Ars Technica's analysis, it seems to have something to do with HP's ultimate goal of pivoting to a subscription-based model for using its printers and ink cartridges.
"Our long-term objective is to make printing a subscription," Lores said. "This is really what we have been driving."
Let's circle back to the Dynamic Security system, which can lock a user out of using HP printers when loaded with a non-HP ink cartridge. According to Lores, this measure is taken to protect customers against potential viruses.
"We have seen that you can embed viruses in the cartridges," Lores said in the interview. "Through the cartridge, [the virus can] go to the printer, [and then] from the printer, go to the network."
But cybersecurity experts responding to Lores' comments are skeptical of this supposed threat that HP claims to be protecting against. The plausibility of a virus in an ink cartridge being used to perpetrate an attack is low, they say, because such a hack would require high amounts of resources and coordination to pull off.
"Purely from a threat-modeling perspective, I'm skeptical — unless it's a nation-state doing a tailored attack," Steve Bellovin, a cybersecurity researcher at Columbia University, told Ars via Mastadon.
Another cybersecurity expert, Graham Sutherland, described Lores' claims as "wildly implausible even in a lab setting, let alone in the wild."
Nevertheless, HP does have its own research to back up its claims of a potential hacking threat. Ars notes, however, that HP implemented the "solution" for the threat before it had even demonstrated there was one; HP released Dynamic Security released back in 2016, and the research justifying the cartridge threat didn't come out till 2022.
Instead, the decision to use the Dynamic Security system makes more sense when you see it as one step to locking customers into HP's ecosystem entirely. Its Instant Ink plan is one example of this, a subscription service that sends customers cartridges for a monthly fee.
And that could just be the beginning of HP's subscription aspirations. Because if you don't subscribe, you'd be what Lores calls an "unprofitable customer," as simply buying an HP printer doesn't make the company enough dough (see: appliances that are too good to make their companies enough money with a one-time purchase).
"Every time a customer buys a printer, it's an investment for us," Lores said, per Ars, "and if this customer doesn't print enough or doesn't use our supplies, it’s a bad investment."
We'll see what the customers think of that a few years from now.
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