Published in New England Printing and Publishing 2002  © Ron Ellis


Security, Backups and Redundancy: Preparing for Prepress Disasters

by Ron Ellis


           A few questions always come up when talking about prepress and tech issues; backups and how they should be done, virus protection, and is a firewall needed and if so what type of firewall. When lumped together these questions all related to security. They are all related to making sure that a prepress department can get its work done and technical glitches will not stop a printing plant from being productive. If I think of many of the emergency visits I have made to customers over the years I see a common thread which too often involves not having a plan or being prepared for the inevitable system failures or attacks.

            What I have learned from these experiences is that it is important to not only do backups, watch for viruses, and keep out intruders, but it is also important to have a plant so that you can get the entire operation up and running when key components are compromised. This means preventing events that will lead to failures as well as being backed up and able to restore in the event of a failure.

            Backups are obviously very important. It is critical to have a backup of all active data, as well as past data that may need to be recalled. When you really think about backups, you end up wondering what happens if the backup is no good. I once sat in a  five day Arcserve course and the majority of IT professionals were there because they had tried to restore and been unable to get data back when it really mattered. So backing up the backup really does matter. A simple way to do this is to have 2 rotating sets of daily backups with one site always being kept offsite until it is updated and overwritten on alternate weeks, and also to have completed jobs “archived” to a separate set of tapes or other media such as writeable CD or DVD. The key is to think about how to backup the backup. (Pulling the rotating daily/weekly tapes once a month also creates another layer of backup, and raids tend to reduce the chance of losing complete drives as well).

And when thinking backups don’t just think about job feels, but also remember it is important to backup calibration files, workflows, icc profiles, imposition templates and punch coordinates, and other config files used by rips and servers in your plant. The difference can be between a 2 hour restore or a 2 week restore. It is a big big deal.

Another series of questions relates to virus protection, specifically how can I protect myself and what level or protection do I require? Virus protection can cause production issues as it can interfere with common applications and cause system errors when it is on. Luckily these days there have been fewer Mac viruses that in the past, although they are still present. The greatest virus threats right now tend to be email script virus’ that use outlook to attack the computer or network. These typically come in through the email server or clients. Many of the virus issues I have seen in the past year have been outlook virus that have attacked a series of office computers as well as the servers in a plant, causing shutdown of the servers for several days as all the computers were scrubbed. Think big disruptions in billing and also prepress work as the server is shut down and the only systems still operating are individual production stations. Solutions range from protecting individual computers to having an enterprise solution that is run from a server. Whether you are small or big you should have some type of virus protection, at least on critical computers if not across your plant. Prepress computers tend to be less prone to virus, although less does not meant they can not be affected. Office computers and critical servers are mostly likely to be shut down and affected.

Another common question involves firewalls, such as what is a firewall, and do I need one. A firewall is a mechanism that shields your network from outside users. (expand def). With a firewall your users can see out to the internet and other outside networks, but people outside cannot see in beyond your DMZ, a zone that allows some of your computers (such as a web server) to be seen by outsiders. A firewall can be run either as a piece of software on your servers and computers, or as a separate piece of hardware. If you are using an outside internet service provider to host your website and email servers then they will be running some type of firewall. The purpose of the firewall is to keep your inside computers safe and secure.

            One event that sticks in my mind was a site that way particularly security conscious, so much so that I could barely get on their rips and servers to install and train on the new products being integrated. I would usually have to beep the system administrator and wait 20 minutes or more to get a password for simple tasks such as a reboot. As I sat there one of the operators began to tell me how one day he kept noticing file space going up and down like crazy on the server. It turned out hackers were using it to store mp3’s and other files. What struck me was that with all the passwords and security the people who should be able to access the servers couldn’t and the people who shouldn’t be able to had no problem exploiting security weaknesses.

Without a firewall outsiders may be able to browse files, damage and delete files or computers, and download and upload files at will. In some of the printing industry files are temporary, transient and less important and this may not matter, but with other segments of the industry involving financial printing or high end commercial this information is important, and the integrity of accounting and bookkeeping systems is of course always important, even if it only lives on one desktop and laptop somewhere in in the company. So firewalls are important, and there are all sorts of solutions ranging from inexpensive software such as Black Ice and Norton Personal Firewall to Cisco, 3Com and SonicWALL hardware firewalls.

How much should be invested to protect and secure your printing technology resources? Calculate how much staff would be idle and production time you would loose if your servers went down for 1 or 2 days and the data is not accessible and systems have to be rebuilt. If you compare that cost to the cost of backups systems, anti-virus solutions, and firewalls you will know how much it is worth spending to protect these resources.

Ron Ellis is a prepress consultant specializing in workflow training and integration. He brings a strong background to all aspects of prepress and has been involved in numerous computer-to-plate installations throughout New England. His consulting services provide color management, integration, training, workflow development, and troubleshooting solutions to the graphic arts community. In addition to consulting, Ron has been working in the printing industry for the past 18 years, and has real life experience to bring to the digital challenges most printers are facing. He currently provides services to a number of prominent prepress dealers, and manufacturers. Ron holds a master’s degree in education in Instructional Design from the University of Massachusetts. More information on his services can be found at or by calling 603-498-4553.