Fax vs. Email: Which is More Secure?

Updated: May 05, 2009

Introduction

When was the last time you wanted to throw your fax machine out the window? If you're like most managers and office workers, faxes might be first on your list of Top 10 Most Annoying Machines. Half the time they don't send correctly, or they're busy when you try to send.

Don't throw your fax out just yet, though. Faxing still offers some important advantages over emailing. In some ways, faxes are actually more secure than email.

Analysis

1. Email attachments can harbor viruses. Many administrators feel that fax is slow and inefficient, no longer conducive to today's fast-paced business. But email attachments can harbor viruses that can debilitate your computers and leave your IT department struggling to reinstall software and beat the clock against an infection spreading across your network.


According to many security researchers, nearly every common email attachment file format can harbor a virus — Acrobat PDFs, Word and Excel documents, application files and more. The widespread use of email attachments leads many office workers to feel complacent about what they open, so they often aren't careful enough and infect their computers before they know it. If the alternative is a fatal virus in your network, taking a couple of extra minutes to fax instead of email a document might be worth the hassle.


2. Faxes don't get blocked like emails. Because emails can harbor viruses and are a target for hackers, many companies have filters that scan and reroute messages directly to the junk mailbox. Some employees might wait and wait for an attachment that never comes — because it's been blocked for being too large, poorly named or another reason. When the system falsely identifies an email as junk, it's called a "false positive," and the mistake can slow down business. By the time the sender calls to verify whether the email was received, a project might be late or a sales opportunity might be missed.


Fax offers the benefit that a message won't be filtered as "junk" by the network, and it also can't print corrupted files. Naturally, other problems could occur, for example if someone grabs a fax intended for another colleague. However, as long as colleagues are only sending business-related materials and are honest with one another, this is unlikely to be a problem.


3. Faxes can keep your data private. To most non-tech folks, email feels like it's just as secure as a fax, or more so. After all, it doesn't leave pages scattered across the office for snooping co-workers to sift through. However, if you're performing business as usual, it's probably OK for your closest office mates to see your faxes. If you're really worried, you can go hang out by the fax machine and wait for the most important messages to arrive.


In reality, most email isn't protected from prying eyes either, unless you go out of your way to add encryption. Because email's not encrypted as it gets transmitted, IT staff or hackers listening in to the transmission can intercept the data and spy on the messages. Fax, on the other hand, is an encrypted transmission. People can't hack and decode your fax message if you're using a plain old fax service on the telephone lines.


So, Fax is Better than Email?


Not exactly. Ultimately, fax isn't the strongest form of security . It still has notable flaws and eventually will be replaced by encrypted email and attachments. In the meantime, though, fax can offer some benefits — and you now have a few reasons to keep your old machine around.

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