Free printing service returns to Northwestern after hacking


Annabel Edwards/Daily Senior Staffer

A Freenters station is set up in the Allison lobby. The new startup offers free printing at various locations around campus.

Paige Leskin, Reporter

The free printing service Freenters returned to Northwestern on Jan. 21 after a hacking incident forced the company to shut down for two months.

“We’ve made sure something like that doesn’t happen again,” said SESP sophomore Kemi Areke, the NU branch manager for Freenters.

Freenters, a company started in October 2012 by two University of Chicago students,  provides free printing to students by publishing advertisement banners on each printed page. Students can gain access to the company using a university email address and name. They can then upload files onto the Freenters website to print at one of the printing stations located throughout campus. The kiosks at NU are placed at Foster-Walker Complex, Norris University Center, Allison Hall and Kemper Hall.

In November 2013, UChicago Electronic Army hacked the Freenters website and database. The group sent out emails to Freenters’ users and gained access to the personal information of customers and advertisers. Because students had connected their Freenters and school accounts, the Freenters team sent out emails advising users to change their passwords about two hours after the attack. Stephen Huh, Freenters’s head of information technology, said the company decided to close down its service until the problem was addressed completely.

During the hiatus, Huh said Freenters worked to revamp the entire company, which included fortifying its security and renovating the website. Huh said the hackers had obtained access to the customer’s accounts using basic computer knowledge, but the problem had been fixed.

“We took our biggest flaw and removed the main threat,” he said. “We’ve improved the entire customer experience.”

Despite the news of the hacking, SESP sophomore Maeghan Murphy said she plans to continue using Freenters. As secretary of Shepard Residential College, she said she has to print dozens of copies of fliers for students in her dorm, and the company’s service made it simple. 

“(Freenters) gives me the opportunity to print for free,” she said. “There’s printing set up in Allison, so it’s very convenient.”

Freenters co-founder Rho Kook Song said he had become frustrated with the ineffectiveness of traditional forms of marketing available to student groups. After voicing his complaints to his friend Hye Sung Kim, Song discovered Kim was unhappy with the expenses of printing at school. The friends merged ideas to solve their problems and created Freenters.

Song said the service has worked well since students don’t mind the advertisements, as most of what they print is for personal use and won’t be turned in to professors. Freenters reaches out to local and national organizations, as well as on-campus student groups, to find companies that want to advertise using the service. Song said the company is in the process of closing deals to set up printing centers at colleges in New York, Boston and Atlanta.

Freenters expanded to NU’s campus at the beginning of Fall Quarter. Areke, who acts as the liaison between the heads of Freenters and NU, expects Freenters to continue to thrive despite the hack. She said the attention that accompanied the hacking may have been beneficial for the company — Freenters’ Facebook page rose from hundreds of likes to more than 7,500 in a couple of days.

“Who doesn’t want to print for free?” she said. “There’s no catch to it.”

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Twitter: @paigeleskin