Canon promises keyword-based document scanning and printing security system

Printer software with inbuilt surveillance. Big Brother in the print room.

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Canon's Uniflow 5 technology will please corporate compliance departments everywhere as it can apparently prevent users from copying or printing documents that contain specific keywords.

Canon has recently demonstrated Uniflow 5, the latest version of its document management system that can prevent users from printing or copying documents containing specific words thanks to a clever keyboard-based security system.

Uniflow is a long-standing Canon document managing system that allows printers, scanners, copiers and multifunction devices to be managed centrally. This allows a record to be kept of how many documents have been printed etc and by whom for billing purposes. This is essential for professions that bill clients by the hour or by the amount of work done, such as lawyers and architects. The system requires both a Uniflow server on your network as well as Uniflow-enabled Canon imaging devices.

The latest version of Uniflow has a clever keyword-based security system. Once configured by an administrator, the system can prevent a user from attempting to print, scan, copy or fax a document containing a prohibited keyword, such as a client name or project codename.

The server will email the administrator a PDF copy of the document in question if a user attempts to do so. The system can optionally inform the user by email that their attempt has been blocked, but without identifying the keyword in question, maintaining the security of the system.

Uniflow 5’s keyword recognition uses optical character recognition (OCR) technology licensed from Belgian OCR firm Iris, technology more commonly used for turning scanned documents into editable text. Canon UK representatives confirmed IT PRO's suspicions that a clever and determined user who has guessed the prohibited keyword could get around it by simply substituting numbers or other characters for letters, such as z00 instead of zoo.

Nonetheless, the usefulness of this feature is immediately apparent for any business that deals with sensitive documents, whether for data protection, compliance, legal or commercial reasons. Canon representatives were unable to confirm when Uniflow 5 products would be available for purchase.

OCR is not the best method, so we may not have to worry much after all. Then again, OCR gets so much wrong when scanning documents that this system could cause serious havoc and prevent legitimate print jobs.

Furthermore I am sure we can all see the way this software can be set up to make a lot of material impossible to be printed or, more importantly, photocopied.

While, in some way, security is important at other times it is important that some material can get out to the world as it is more important that we all know about it.

More and more the powers-that-be, wherever they sit, are intent on restricting this or that activity by means that could be so invasive that one wonders whether one would have to turn into a Luddite in some respect and like the weavers destroying the mechanized looms to do that to some technology.

© 2010