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What is spooling and how does it work?

Aug. 07, 2023 Technology Insights

What you should know about spooling in cyber security

Spooling, also known as simultaneous peripheral operations online, is a buffering mechanism that stores data used for input or output devices, systems, or programs. The purpose of spooling is to temporarily store data before a program or system executes the given data.


Spooling can perform multiple tasks at the same time. It operates in the background, allowing the user or application to continue with other tasks without waiting for the I/O (input/output) operation to complete. Spooling can effectively improve system performance efficacy.


Continue reading to learn more about the spooling process.


How does spooling work?

Spooling improves the overall functionality of any given device, allowing any user to work more efficiently without waiting for each I/O job to complete before proceeding with other tasks. 


The spooling process works in a set of phases:


#1. Data submission 

When a user or an application sends a request to print a document or perform an I/O job, the data stays in the spooling directory and acts as a temporary file. The data the user submitted will be processed within the intended device awaiting its duty to execute the given task.


#2. Queue management

Spooling creates a queue of pending tasks (or jobs) in the order that the data is received. Each job represents a task that will be executed, for example, printing a document. Print spoolers are the most commonly known spooling method. Spooling is the computer’s way of letting the printer know there’s another job on the waiting. [1]


#3. Device control 

The spooling software manages the communication between the computer and the I/O devices. It takes control and transfers data from the spool to the intended device, ensuring that the device is ready to receive the data and transmit it at an appropriate rate.


#4. Background processing 

When data transfers to a device, the user or application can continue working on other tasks. The spooling software handles the data transfer in the background, making the I/O operation appear faster to the user.


#5. Completion and data removal 

Once the data is processed and successfully sent to a device, it’s removed from the spooling directory or temporary file. The spooling software will proceed to the next task in the queue and then repeat the process if another task is waiting behind it.


Spooling attacks

Spooling is an easy target for cyber attackers because it runs through a computer network. A spooling attack occurs when a hacker sends an overload of information to the spooling device. This can cause significant damage to a system, resulting in data loss or corruption. [2] Most people use spoolers for printing but are unaware of how vulnerable spooling is to a cyber attack. 


The best way to prevent a spooling cyber attack is to use a network monitoring tool and stay informed on how spooling works within your system so you can avoid a potential spooling attack.


Related resource:

The six best cybersecurity practices for your business


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1: Central Eyes | What is Spooling in Cyber Security?

2: INKIT | Spooling in Cyber Security: What Is It—and How Do You Prevent It?

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