Is Faxing A Relevant 21st Century Technology?

GFI Software has announced the results of a new survey about the faxing habits of UK office workers, which show that faxing continues to be an important form of office communication for most businesses. However, concerns exist about the privacy of data when transmitted over a paper-based fax system, with 84% of legal professionals and 69% of finance professionals admitting to reading a fax intended for someone else.

The independent blind survey, which polled 1,005 office workers in UK businesses ranging from 10 to 500 employees, was conducted by Opinion Matters on behalf of GFI Software. Contradicting the widespread perception that faxing is no longer commonly used, 82% of respondents think faxing is still a relevant technology and 74% of respondents said their business makes use of faxing as part of their daily workflow process for customer, vendor and interdepartmental communications.

Security and privacy at risk

The majority (60%) of businesses are still making use of traditional paper fax technology, a potentially risky practice that may compromise information privacy. The GFI poll found that half (49%) of office workers have at one time or another been concerned about security and privacy while sending a traditional paper fax.

Their concerns are well founded, as 50% of respondents admitted to reading a paper fax that was intended for someone else. In the HR, healthcare and legal industries especially, where data privacy is paramount, this represents an enormous risk.

Electronic faxing more secure than email

54% 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 is direct from one point to the other and provides proof of delivery.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • 83% of businesses still think faxing is a relevant technology
  • 60% still use traditional paper faxing, while 29% use electronic network fax server solutions and only 14% use online fax services
  • 42% of businesses are still utilising fax technology because the companies they work with require it, and 25% are themselves required by government or industry regulations to use it
  • 49% of respondents who have sent data via paper fax have been concerned about privacy and security issues. That level of concern swells above the average in business sectors where sensitive or proprietary data is abundant, including HR (65%), healthcare (60%), professional services (59%), and legal (56%)
  • One in two (50%) office workers have read a paper fax sitting in a fax machine that was intended for someone else
  • Worse offenders were, somewhat surprisingly, legal (84%), professional services (70%) and finance (69%)
  • 52% don’t know whether a document or contract sent by fax is legally binding, while an additional 14% believe (incorrectly) that it isn’t
  • Almost five times as many respondents think email is more secure than fax (54% vs 11%).

“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 realise it or not, faxing is here to stay – it’s just had a facelift.”

Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.