RFID Secures Printing Process in Public Spaces

By Claire Swedberg

ThinPrint's ezeep system allows users in co-working spaces, libraries or schools to launch a printing function from their laptop or other device, then go to any ezeep printer, tap an RFID card against a reader and prompt their personal document to be printed.

ThinPrint's Cloud Services division has released an RFID-based printing solution known as ezeep to make printing more secure, as well as more automatic, in public spaces. The LF or HF RFID-based system is designed to match an individual with a printer and the documents he or she is trying to print, thereby ensuring that documents are not printed unless the recipient is at the printer to receive them. Dozens of organizations are now using or trialing the technology, ThinPrint reports.

The ezeep solution is intended to provide users with greater control of the documents they print. In a public place in which there may be an entire bank of printers, individuals can utilize the system to determine exactly where their paperwork will print, and only once they are standing at that printer.

ThinPrint, a German solutions provider, has offered its print-management software for 20 years. Recently, says Henning Volkmer, ThinPrint Americas' CEO, the printing paradigm has shifted as more employees now work from laptops in public or co-located sites where they may need to print documents. However, he notes, they still need to control where those documents are printed, so as to ensure that they don't end up being lost or picked up by unintended parties.

While paper printing is less common than it was decades ago, Volkmer says, companies still often require the printing of documents—sometimes those that are sent to workers remotely by management or by other parties. How print-based data is managed has been changing as well, he notes. "About four years ago," Volkmer states, "it became obvious that solutions are moving to the cloud."

The company's customers were interested in cloud-based services to make connections between a computer and a printer fast and easy. At the same time, he says, "Co-working spaces are becoming more mature, with more corporate-type clients." This means there is greater demand for all of the necessary amenities, including secure printing.

Thus, ThinPrint developed a passive RFID-based authentication solution to ensure that printers only print documents when a user identifies himself or herself at that machine. The system consists of the ezeep cloud-based software to manage printers and printer data. A single piece of hardware is required for the system: a module that sits next to a printer with a built-in Raspberry Pi computer and an Elatec RFID tag reader. Also required is software to manage the collected read data, in addition to an Ethernet connection to the cloud-based software. The system is designed to accept 125 KHz LF RFID tags, though modules for HF 13.56 MHz reads could also be provided.

A library, workspace manager or school could provide ID cards that come with a built-in RFID chip, but the system does not need to initially recognize the RFID number, Volkmer says—even an LF or HF tag in a key fob or health-club membership card could be read. When a user taps his or her card against the reader, it detects the card's ID number (or the part of that number that is not encrypted). This prompts the printer linked to that ezeep unit to print a registration page providing instructions for how to register for printing authorization, along with a serial number to input, which links to the ID number read on the tag, stored in the cloud-based software.

The individual can then use his or her laptop or other device to set up an account with an e-mail address and other credentials, including a password. He or she must also download the app, which adds the new printer and authorization to the device's OS dialog so that user workflows need not be changed. When a person is ready to print a document, he or she can use the ezeep system to prompt printing, then proceed to any designated ezeep printer and tap a dedicated RFID card or tag against the reader.

The tag ID is captured and forwarded to the software, which confirms the individual's identity and prompts the printer to release that specific document. The system ensures that printers do not simply print documents that might be left behind on a printer, or could be picked up by another party. Users no longer have to select a specific printer or find the appropriate machine where their document is waiting.

An individual using the system for a school, a library or a co-work space could use the card at any ezeep printers at sites under that organization's jurisdiction. The solution was released this year, Volkmer says, and is now in use across Europe, as well as in the United States, Australia and Asia.