old fax machine

Fax still exists and we sought to figure out WHY.

Fax (AKA “facsimile”) machines have been around since before the invention of the telephone, and we’ve had the telephone for over 100 years. Nowadays we’ve got more advanced technologies thanks to the internet facilitating digital signature services, portable scanners and apps… So, why is fax not dead yet?!

We wanted to address this subject because it comes up often, especially in the context of compliance and auditing. Businesses want to know: Is our faxing procedure efficient? Are we secure? Faxing won’t be around forever, we predict, but it’s still very relevant today and we have outlined why.

What’s The Difference Between Fax, eFax, and Email?

Here are the basics about how fax, eFax, and email work.

Traditional Fax Machines

A traditional fax machine sends faxes via a plain old analog telephone line and the document content is transmitted in the form of audio via binary signals. The document gets scanned one line at a time, detecting and translating the color/black and white into electricity with either high or low voltage. The receiving end printer knows to add ink for black and skip the white space to generate a copy of the document communicated.

Now and going forward we know that more and more companies and individuals are using internet for telecommunication. Messages that companies might thing are traveling over that single analog line might actually be switching between that and one or more carrier services. This certainly deserves attention from a security perspective.

eFax

eFax (AKA”electronic facsimile”) allows its users to communicate with others’ traditional fax machines by sending and receiving the messages via the internet. This is cheaper than having to maintain, including supplies, a traditional fax machine. Also, this technology makes computer users who need to fax things happy- it’s convenient, they can even use digital signatures, and they can even send the same message to multiple recipients at once. eFax works by sending attachments over email to a physical fax machine. The risk of having fax copies sitting on the fax machine for anyone to grab or missing some pages that are still coming through is obviously eliminated, which implies some better security; on the other hand, the most significant security consideration is that these virtual messages do travel across the internet. It’s an e-mail attachment that takes much of the same path as a traditional e-mail.

Email

Email is computer-based communication. The outgoing mail is gathered by your Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), which is responsible for determining where to send your email and how based on how you put together your message. Then the SMTP server contacts another server, the Domain Name Server (DNS) to translate the domain you put in as the recipient into the appropriate IP address that the internet can understand. The DNS sends the email to the recipient’s mail exchange server, the Mail Transfer Agent (MTA), where it finds its way to the recipient’s inbox by getting fetched from the MTA via POP (Post Office Protocol) or IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol).
We could go on, but the overall idea is this: Emails get sent over the internet via a combination of communication networks, servers, and mail clients. Multiple intersections and touch-points as a result.

So, Which One Is The Most Secure?

Both eFax and email are traversing the ‘net. Still, we want to clear the air on something: Traditional fax is NOT always the most secure option.

Traditional fax is unencrypted, though there are encryption-enabled machines available out there. Hypothetically anyone who can tap into that analog phone line would be able to also receive that message with the right equipment. There’s also the security consideration that a fax could be sitting on a physical receiving machine for a while before anybody picks it up, leaving it pretty susceptible to interception. Nonetheless, it is still perceived as the most secure form of document transfer. In the latter portion of this post we outline reasons why this might be the case.

So, in which cases would eFax or email be more secure? Well, the more security measures that are in place, the more secure the communication. There are multiple methods available for eFax or email to be made more secure:

  • Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocols can be employed to ensure the privacy and safety of the data over its journey
  • Encryption for both the at-rest (stored) and transmitting data
  • Password protection of both accounts and messages themselves in some cases
  • Audit trails to track the path of messages
  • Authentication of senders and recipients for added security

Using industry-standard security practices and strong encryption, as well as some of the above additional measures, can actually bring eFax and email to a much more secure level than what traditional fax can offer.

So, we’re back to the question: Why FAX?

Here’s Why Fax Still Exists

Fax Has Credibility

A whole host of businesses still rely heavily on faxing. Ongoing use with minimal reports of security interruptions that are drowned out by reports of internet-related cyber risks, combined with the facts we outline above and below, perpetuate it’s prevalence.

It continues to hold as the preferred method for transmitting documents across regulated industries.

Bureaucracy

Standards exist formally, in fact, for these regulated industries like finance and healthcare. Fax as the primary not in-person communication method has been the required mode for most of these sectors because of the fact that the technology has for so long been legally vetted for signature requirements especially.

As a result, it has the reputation (perhaps “illusion”, see above) as the most safe and secure.

Digital Conservativeness

Regardless of what we know about technology’s ability to enhance operational efficiencies and boost productivity, so many companies have cold feet.

We get it- truly!

There are two angles with perspectives that feed this issue.

  1. Technology will replace work that we do as humans, so it threatens job security.
  2. The internet isn’t safe.

Perhaps these have some truth…but not in the ways you might think!

Increasing Efficiency With Technology

Business technology is developed and designed to improve our lives and our companies’ successes. Fax is no exception, and the same is true for subsequent solutions like secure cloud communication. Although the job of walking to the printer, scanning a document, determining it’s intended recipient, waiting for the transaction to complete, receiving the confirmation, and returning with the document to one’s desk might seem efficient and safe, other services have been developed to save you time, save you money, and diminish security risks all at the same time.

Is My Document Safe On The Internet?

Left unencrypted, unaccounted for, and unconfirmed, of course there are high security risks to sending secure information such as ePHI (electronic personal health information) over email or eFax.  That said, with protective security measures in place these documents can be heavily guarded and maximally secure when traveling and being stored electronically.

There are certainly a wealth of valid reasons why a business would be using physical fax, but hopefully we have fleshed out some of the curiosities that come up when unsure as to why an organization wouldn’t be using an online fax version instead.

We can help you to better understand business technology like this and determine how to best position your technology to drive your business.

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