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What makes print job watermarking really work? People!

What makes print job watermarking really work? People!

In my last blog post, I talked about the importance of people and organizational culture to successfully implement data security. The GDPR data protection regulation has given us all the impetus we need to sit back and reflect on what really protects data.  

And the more I reflected while writing my last post, the more I believe it all comes down to people!  

Over my two decades working in the print and document industry, I’ve heard many stories of data breaches. I’m not talking about the big events that make the news – I’m referring to the everyday concerns of your typical organization. 

Those accidental data breaches

It could be the uncollected payroll form left on the printer, or the patient case file accidentally left on the bus! Most of these events filter out in a small puff of smoke, but they are warnings – an ember ready to ignite the next wildfire!

Systems and practices play a key role in data protection. But, as the Equifax hack shows us, they are only as good as the people that maintain them. I fundamentally believe people are the key to data security.

This principle has heavily influenced our software development here at PaperCut Software, too. I feel one feature – digital signatures and watermarking – exemplifies this and I’d love to tell the story why.

We’re employees, but also community members

I believe 99.99% of people working in an organization want to do the right thing when it comes to data protection. We’re employees, but also community members. We have our important data sitting in the hands of others. We genuinely want to respect data like we’d like others to respect our own data.

The little yellow dots

Traditionally, the print industry has tracked and identified printing using steganography – little yellow dots “hidden” on a page. These methods may work to “capture” a would be frauder experimenting with their home printer, but they are not the tool for business and corporations. Why? Because tracking via steganography is only valuable after a leak … and that’s way too late!

True data protection comes before a leak. Our belief at PaperCut Software is that we need to focus the majority of our attention to appeal to everyday people’s desire to do the right thing, not “capture” the 0.01% of “bad guys” after the fact. This belief is what drove the design of our document watermark feature.

How does PaperCut MF’s watermarking work?

PaperCut MF’s watermark works by applying light-gray identifying text on the bottom of each page (or optionally an overlay over the page).

  • It’s deliberately visible to the end user
  • It acts as a reminder every time someone views a printed document.
  • The feeling of “my name is on this” helps make ownership and accountability clear.

It’s like a big red “top secret” stamp there to remind you! A visible watermark protects a document – not just at the time it’s printed or collected. It isn’t just about “protecting” after a breach. It’s a tool that helps protect the document for its lifetime.

What’s a digital signature?

A digital signature is something that’s usually added to a watermark. It a number or code that helps you tie a document back to the time it was printed, where, and by whom. It’s like a fingerprint (see right-hand side of the image above).

Although it’s possible for a watermark to just contain a digital signature, I always recommend to our customers to also add a visible date/time and a username as well. The introduction of a username helps make it clear where document privacy ownership sits – first and foremost with the person who printed it.

Data management, privacy and security is a responsibility of us all. Design for the 99.99%! The subtle sustainable nudges we implement are often effective because they focus on people rather than the problem. They become part of our culture and everyday work, and often have a much larger lasting impact than “a procedure or policy”.



EDITOR’S NOTE: Ironic use of watermarked Shutterstock image for dramatic purposes only. No copyright infringed, I promise.