Faxing vs. Emailing, and Security

My doctor, who is part of a large modern medical complex, will not let me email him anything–even simple questions. But he is happy for me to fax things to him. I often wondered about that: why?

I just read an interesting article that explains why the use of fax communications is growing—in fact it never stopped growing. Regardless of better technologies being out there.

According to the article, the main reason faxes continue in widespread use is security and the interoperability of that security. A fax, transmitted from fax machine to another, over a phone to phone connection, is supposedly unhackable, which is important for industries that need signed or secured documents.

So the medical industry is still mostly standardized on fax transmissions, again mostly for security reasons. And, according to that article, the use of other secure transmission methods by doctors has been hampered by medical records companies deliberately making their systems incompatible with each other.

Now, the flip side to this is if you use an eFax service with email delivery instead of a phone-to-phone connection on two fax machines, the transmission is most likely quite insecure, according to this article. The point of that article is that the emails that send the attached PDFs are exposed to hacking in the transmission over the internet. The solution is to log on to the eFax website with a secure connection, and do your sending (and receiving) that way, but that’s often not very convenient is it?

Which brings up the whole question of email security in general—emails are a very convenient way of communicating. The email inbox is easy to use. But what does it take for regular emails to be sent securely, particularly in the Outlook world? I have at least one client who says that their corporate policy is that all emails sent outside of their company must be sent encrypted in Outlook. How you do that will be the topic of a future post, soon, I hope.

But in the meantime, reply in the comments section: Does your company still use faxes? Does your company have a means of securing email communications? Please share what you can, thanks!


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4 Responses to Faxing vs. Emailing, and Security

  1. Kevin Grierson says:

    I think the security advantages of faxes are overblown. Sure, the transmission of the fax over a phone line may be harder (though not impossible) to intercept. But I’d be very surprised if most faxes aren’t received by a computer instead of a standalone fax machine. All faxes sent to me, for example, are stored on my fax service’s server, and are also emailed to me as a PDF, where they sit on my firm’s exchange server. Faxes I send are generally PDF documents on my computer and are stored on my service’s outgoing fax server (and likely on a computer at the other end). Given how often a fax sits on a computer anyway, I think any security advantages of using a fax service are overstated.

    To answer your other question, the use of faxes, at least of my law firm, has diminished substantially over the last 10 years or so. Half my partners don’t even have fax numbers. I receive perhaps one to two faxes a year and send out just one, which makes it harder and harder to justify the cost of a fax service, even though several are less than $10 a month now.

  2. Marc Sigrist says:

    Hi Michael,

    here around Switzerland, I have not seen any fax usage for the last 15 years or so except sometimes for the communication between doctors and health insurers. But even there, other secure systems of communication exist, but not all participants have implemented them (yet).

    When my customers need to send email securely, they usually a) attach an encrypted zip file and communicate the password separately, or b) use a separate component integrated into outlook that safely stores the email content on a safe 3rd party server, from where the addressee can download it if he has an account with the same 3rd party.

    However, I think the future lies in integrated, easy-to-use end-to-end encryption solutions, where not even the hoster can read what is stored on his servers.

    One such solution is protonmail.com. When the email accounts of both the sender and addressee are with protonmail, it is strictly impossible for anyone (including the administrators of protonmail) to read these mails. Unfortunately, protonmail cannot be integrated into Outlook yet, and it does not even have a calendar yet. That’s why I still use Office 365 for business.

    Another (not email related) safe storage solution is tresorit.com, also using end-to-end encryption. It also includes the possibility to safely share content with other people. I use this myself as my automatic cloud backup for everything on my PCs.

    I think we are in the middle of a transition towards safe communication, which will be finished only in 5-10 years or so.

  3. Bill A. says:

    Hi Michael,
    In the insurance vertical (which is where I have spent my career), we see fax communication (between partners in an insurance transaction) decreasing steadily for about the last 5 to 10 years, due to stricter data security laws in most US states, the rise of email security plug-ins for Outlook that handle the task with a fairly easy end user experience, and the advent of a number of different eSignature/eContracting platforms that integrate with the major business management systems that insurance agencies use. One example of the former that I am familiar with is the RMail for Business product from RPost, a very widely used example of the latter is the product from DocuSign.
    Current state of the industry is (as Mr. Sigrist stated in his post earlier) is “in transition”. Insurance agency uptake on both types of software is not where the industry would like it to be, and the applications themselves still need some end user training to be used easily in the organization’s workflows. The variance in understanding (or not) the relevant data security laws themselves, among the independent insurance agency body in the US, is a matter for separate discussion.

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