This Week in Imaging: Fax – An Oldie-But-Goodie Provides Secure, Effective Messaging

Photo credit: Kathy Wirth

While fax is considered an old technology (and considering that it was invented in 1843 by Alexander Bain, it certainly is), and is today usually offered as an option (not standard) for office copier/MFPs, two things this week prompted us to see how, in many instances, it’s still a very useful technology.

The first was an on-demand television series (The Night Manager). In this series, a U.K. intelligence officer faxes a U.S. intelligence counterpart a request for a U.S. military inspection of a truck convoy heading into Syria. Why not just email the request? Because in a pinch, fax is far, far more secure than email.

Why? Email messages are routed through Internet Service Providers, firewalls, and even virus checkers, and along their journeys, are stored, saved, and copied multiple times without encryption, and can be downloaded and read by third parties.

In contrast, with fax, faxing that uses the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is converted into base64 binary, sent through the PSTN, and then reassembled at the other end. To hack into the PSTN would require direct manual access to the telephone line, and even if a hacker hacked into it, the fax would just appear as just noise, and it wouldn’t be possible to read the fax message.

Second, it turns out that fax is, well, a pretty good pestering technique. According to an article in Wired magazine recently:

“FaxZero (an online fax service) … has a specific page for faxing U.S. representatives and senators. From February to October 2016, users of the site sent 11.4 faxes per day on average to elected officials through that page. From January 4th through January 26th, the average jumped to 140 faxes per day—not exactly a deluge, but a big leap for faxing.”

Some argue that receiving petitions via print-outs from a fax machine or copier/MFP are more effective in reaching a target than email messages – which can be deleted with just a click, or routed to email junk folders. Others argue, no, that faxes aren’t as effective as emails in reaching targets (personal visits are said to be the most effective). Still others point out that savvy fax users can have faxes electronically routed to folders, never to see the light of day. That all being said, there’s a reason why fax is still a preferred method for the transmission of confidential medical and government information, especially over secure phone lines.

Even though the technology has never waned in the fax-loving countries of Japan and Israel, fax seems to be back. That is at least in terms of reaching U.S. representatives, with the Web site fivethirtyeight.com saying that constituents are faxing U.S. representatives – at least in one period – at a rate of 300-times an hour.

So, whether it’s making sure communications aren’t intercepted, or just wishing to make a point, fax is still relevant and will be probably be here to stay for quite some time.

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