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Fax machines are still widely used in businesses. And it’s a huge security problem

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Fax machines were extremely useful and recurring devices in the offices of the 1980s and 1990s. These took advantage of the data transmission capabilities of telephone lines to send and receive documents over long distances.

One of the great advantages of fax machines was their speed. Although they did not send documents instantly, each page took approximately three minutes to be transmitted and reach the recipient. Certainly, this was an advantage over postal mail.

Fax machines, then and now

We are talking about faxing and sending documents by post, so you may be wondering what role the email on that stage. Although this emerged in 1971, it was not until 1988 that it began to spread in the professional field.

But we had to wait almost another decade for the arrival of the popular Hotmail, which was born in 1996. Years later, in 2004, we witnessed the launch of Gmail. Email came as the ability to securely send documents instantly.

With all the decades behind the email service, it would be logical to think that it has completely replaced sending faxes. Yes, she has, but in part. We are in 2023 and fax machines are still basic in many scenarios.

This system, according to The Washington Post, is still very much alive in the United States, Japan and Germany. The reasons for its survival in times when the machines that give it life have become synonymous with outdated technology are many.

One of the reasons why the fax is still alive is because this system has been updated. To “send a fax” it is no longer necessary to have those old devices of the past, but it is possible to use online applications that are used to send digital documents.


New multifunction printers have also entered the scene, which have capabilities to print, scan and, of course, fax. Some use telephone lines and others directly take advantage of online services to transmit the documents.

Now these possibilities are great, but why hold on to using this technology? Here we go with more reasons. One of them has to do with the legality of documents. In the United States, for example, signatures sent by fax were accepted in the late 1980s.

For its part, the electronic signature has long been rejected by many US federal agencies. Now, the electronic signature is a reality in the European Union and even in the United Statesbut many have decided to continue using fax machines.

The health sector also has an important role in the survival of the fax. As we know, this industry generates a huge amount of documents who must travel regularly between doctors, providers and patients. However, the different actors in this ecosystem, as explained by The New Yorkerthey use systems that are often not compatible with each other.

The solution? Sending faxes. And this, for health actors, represents a double benefit. For one, they don’t have to deal with the incompatibilities of certain software platforms. On the other, at least in the case of the United States, they comply with the legislation that protects the shipment and security of certain documents.

Fax is not as secure as it seems

But what the legislation can say is one thing and reality is another. As CheckPoint points outmany of the users of the traditional fax service are convinced that it is a secure communication pathhowever, they are wrong.

Fax is no more secure than email and the idea that “it is more difficult to intercept a fax than an email” has been incorrectly promoted. This technology presents a large number of vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cybercriminals to access sensitive information.

The keys to this point, according to the researchers, are quite clear. One is that the protocols used by this system have not changed in more than two decades. The other is that the data is transmitted no cryptographic protections. That is, the message could be visible if it is intercepted.

CheckPoint explains the dangers of faxing with a rather alarming example. They say that if a cybercriminal wants to infiltrate a bank’s network, he or she could take the bank’s fax number and send a malicious fax. If the printer, in addition to the telephone line, is connected to the bank’s internal network, the attacker could access it.

The attacker could also embed an additional exploit into the malicious fax. In this way, once the first part of the attack is finished, it could take control of the multifunction printer to execute other types of attacks against the entity’s internal network.

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As we can see, for different reasons, we tend to use systems that have remained over time. The fax machine, and its security issues, is just one example.. Something similar happens to us with the old Internet Explorer, which is still essential in many cases, and unsupported versions of Windows, such as Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Images: OpenClipart-Vectors | Andrej Lisakov | pittigrilli

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