The technology that won't go away

Faxing rolls on as an important form of communication for most businesses, according to a new survey of U.S. office workers. Despite its prevalence, however, there's no getting around concerns about the privacy of data transmitted over paper-based fax systems.

The survey, conducted by Opinion Matters on behalf of GFI Software, polled 1,008 office workers in U.S. organizations ranging from 10 to 500 employees. Eighty-five (85) percent of respondents said their business makes use of faxing – and 54 percent said it is a central part of their daily workflow process for customer, vendor and interdepartmental communications.

A surprising 72 percent of surveyed businesses are still making use of traditional paper fax technology -- a potentially risky practice that may compromise information privacy. The GFI poll found that 50 percent of office workers have at one time or another been concerned about security and privacy when sending a traditional paper fax. Their concerns are well founded, as 49 percent of respondents admitted to reading a paper fax that was intended for someone else. In the healthcare, financial services and legal industries especially, where data privacy is paramount, this represents an enormous risk, the survey report noted.

Forty-four (44) percent of respondents said they believed that email is more secure than faxing, suggesting that many people aren’t aware of the security-related distinctions between these technologies. Unlike electronic faxing, email can contain viruses and Trojans and can be blocked by spam filters (often with no notification to either sender or recipient). Email also travels through many stops where data can be intercepted, while an encrypted fax travels directly from one point to the other and provides proof of delivery.

Additional findings from the survey include:

  • Nearly one in two (49 percent) office workers have read a paper fax sitting in a fax machine that was intended for someone else.
  • 46 percent don’t know whether a document or contract sent by fax is legally binding, while an additional 12% believe (incorrectly) that it isn’t.
  • 44 percent of respondents think email is more secure than fax, while 43 percent think they are equally secure. Just 13 percent think faxing is more secure than email.
  • 29 percent of businesses are still utilizing fax technology because the companies they work with require it, and 24 percent are themselves required by government or industry regulations to use it.

“Faxing is a required form of transactional communication in a number of key industries for compliance reasons, but while paper faxing can be risky from a privacy perspective, many people aren’t aware that electronic faxing is actually superior to even email in terms of security,” said Phil Bousfield, general manager of the Infrastructure Business Unit at GFI Software. “This is a technology that has quietly evolved to change with the times and serve the needs of various vertical markets, leapfrogging email in the process to become the most secure form of digital communication available. Whether most people realize it or not, faxing is here to stay - it’s just had a facelift.”