A couple weeks ago the Wall Street Journal ran a tongue-in-cheek How to Send a Fax When You Don’t Have a Fax Machine article (Tech May 5, 2017). The article gave serious advice, but it left room to make some fun. Based on the 100+ comments the piece received, other readers felt similarly. The one question that resonated through those comments was “is fax really secure?”
Why is fax considered more secure than other means of communication? It’s a statement that gets repeated often, but in many cases it’s not well understood. These days, information security is increasingly important, and especially when sharing or transmitting confidential information.
Faxes can contain financial data, patient information, confidential contracts and agreements, and many other forms of sensitive data. The need to ensure this stays secure is more important than ever. With hundreds of millions of faxes being sent on a daily basis, a lot of data are streaming from place to place.
Fax as a communication tool has been around for quite a while – in fact Alexander Bain invented the technology to send image data over a wire back in 1843. Modern use of faxing began in earnest in the 1980s. The killer feature of fax is the ability to transmit images and text essentially instantly – bypassing traditional snail mail and perhaps back in the day, the Pony Express. Fax machines, with the musical tones many are familiar with that start the handshake between two devices, essentially create a point-to-point communication channel. Unlike email and other means of sharing documents over the public Internet, fax uses telephone lines – circuit switched networks – that are harder to identify and tap into by your typical hacker. Packet-based transmissions over public computer networks are far easier to trace and hack, and instead of climbing a telephone pole, hackers can watch network traffic from the comfort of their desk.
Today, fax does go through the Internet and fax traffic, converted to more modern TCP/IP streams, leveraging worldwide networks rather than relying on public switched telephone networks that can incur long distance charges. But for companies that have systems that use the near-ubiquitous fax protocol to communicate with each other, or across enterprise borders, fax has not only made the leap to IP-based networks, the leading providers also enhance fax security through encryption both in transit and at rest. Using the most secure encryption algorithms like AES 256-bit encryption, which is a federal government/National Institute of Standards and Technolgoy (NIST) certified algorithm, fax has become one of the most secure methods of transferring data quickly, easily, and reliably.