Faxes are often thought of as an outdated form of communication. Small businesses and large enterprises that deal with sensitive information or forms that need to be legally binding are well aware that fax services are still a long way away from being completely replaced. There is still an important place for fax in today’s business world. Of course, the cost of faxing has continued to rise over the years as machines become more expensive, repair and maintenance costs add up, and even basic supplies like paper eat into your bottom line.
As a result, Internet fax services have surged in popularity. Online fax providers give you the ability to send faxes as well as receive them, using a web portal, browser extension, or app instead of a traditional fax machine and fax number. The result is greatly reduced costs both upfront and over time. Many businesses have made the switch but there are some questions about Internet fax services that may make you pump the brakes on throwing out that old fax machine just yet.
Since fax services are often used for secure, sensitive communications, it’s important to know that the faxes being sent are protected from prying eyes and hackers. Could using an Internet fax service expose your sensitive business faxes or is the service safe to use for all of the faxes you would normally send via a traditional fax machine?
Let’s break down the facts and help you understand data encryption and online storage with Internet fax services.
What Risks Are There with Online Faxes?
With any online service you use – whether it’s email, social media, online shopping websites, or Internet fax services – you need to feel confident in the security of the platform you’re using. Since you’re sending business documents that may contain sensitive information, Internet fax services need to be able to provide a high level of security in order to earn your confidence and your business. So, what are the risks of online faxes?
When we think of risks online, it’s easy to imagine a sophisticated hacker hiding in a dark room and working feverishly at their keyboard. Many people believe that hacking and data loss is a result of a hacker overcoming otherwise great security. The truth is, hacking is much less glamorous and mysterious than Hollywood movies would have you believe.
One of the most common ways hackers gain access to accounts online, like an Internet fax web portal where your faxes may be stored, is by simply guessing login credentials like username and password. When data is breached online, passwords can be leaked and even sold on the dark web to hackers. They will then input those same passwords and usernames into popular online services to see if there’s a match. This is why you should always create a unique password for every account you use, and this is especially true if the account will be transmitting sensitive data like an Internet fax service. Hackers can brute force passwords as well by creating a program to continually guess your password using common words and phrases but this is a less-common and more time-consuming method of hacking.
Phishing is another very popular form of hacking and leads to the breach of millions of online accounts every year. This is when a hacker sends an email appearing to be from a legitimate company where you are prompted to click a link and enter your login information. Once you have done this, the hacker can easily access your online accounts with the information you willingly handed over. Most companies will never ask for you to enter login info through email for this reason and you should always verify the sender as well as the link destination in the email before acting. When in doubt, contact the company directly using the contact information posted on their website.
A more advanced method of hacking involves setting up fake public wi-fi hotspots that users connect to. Once you have connected to one of these hotspots, all of the information you send over the Internet is visible to the hacker that has set up and is monitoring the wi-fi network. Some Internet fax services overcome this threat by offering encryption which essentially scrambles your data so it cannot be viewed. It’s important to note, however, that not all Internet fax services offer this level of security and you should always verify if encryption is an included security feature or not. If it is not, ALWAYS be sure to use a secure Internet connection.
Finally, hackers have also been known to create fake websites or apps that look like the real thing. Users who are not closely watching the URL they are visiting can be tricked into uploading sensitive information for hackers to collect. When you sign up for an Internet fax service, be sure to bookmark the home page so you aren’t tricked into clicking a fake link provided by a search engine or delivered to your email inbox. If you follow a fake link and then upload sensitive documents, all of that information will fall into the hands of the hacker and it won’t be delivered to your intended recipient.
All of these online hacking methods can put your Internet fax service at risk. However, the good news is that using proper online security behavior can largely protect you from having your sensitive information exposed and stolen.
Who Should Be Worried About Internet Fax Security?
Frankly, any business that uses Internet fax should be concerned about security. With that said, there are some specific businesses where security may be an even greater concern and if you work in one of these industries then you may want to search for an Internet fax provider that offers the best encryption available.
Since faxed documents can be considered legally binding and official, fax services are still regularly used by those in the financial industry. It’s easy to understand why the security of financial documents is important. These documents could contain bank account numbers, loan information, asset calculations, and even social security numbers. By stealing such personal information, hackers would be able to open credit card accounts, apply for loans, and more.
Doctors and medical offices also use fax frequently to send off patient referrals or share health information with other doctors. Due to the sensitivity of personal medical records, medical businesses are bound by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Individuals have clearly defined rights under HIPAA when it comes to the use and sharing of their medical information. Medical businesses also have strict responsibilities regarding the handling of this information. Breaching HIPAA due to poor security practices can lead to substantial fines and regulatory action. HIPAA compliance is not something to be taken lightly.
Lawyers are also major users of fax services since the documents sent by fax are considered to be legally binding. As a result, these documents can be very sensitive and could cover everything from criminal cases to divorce settlements to real estate purchases. Allowing this information to fall into the wrong hands can be disastrous leading to penalties against the lawyer, review of their ability to practice, and reputational loss among their current and prospective clients.
Of course, your business doesn’t have to operate in a closely regulated industry to be concerned about data privacy when it comes to Internet fax. The information you share via fax documents could contain details about your competitive advantage, your clients, or even yourself. Protecting that information is incredibly important regardless of what legislation may be in place. The reputation of your business is what’s at stake.
How Online Fax Services Keep Data Secure
There are two unique ways you can protect your data with online fax services that a traditional fax machine simply can’t offer. In addition to the potential cost savings, the protection of data is why so many businesses are making the move to Internet fax providers.
First, encryption is a major part of the overall security picture. Typically, when you send information online, it’s unencrypted. This means that anyone with the right know-how can see what you have sent. This is especially concerning if you are on-the-go and regularly connecting to public wi-fi networks like those found at coffee shops or airports. If you want to ensure the security of the faxes you are sending through online fax services, then you need to choose a service that offers the highest level of encryption available.
So, how does encryption work to protect your information? Think of the data you send online like a postcard. If you send a postcard with a note on it through the mail then everyone who that postcard passes by can see the information on it. Now, if you were to lock the postcard in a box and give the key to your recipient, they would be only one able to see the information on the postcard. This is, on a very simple level, how encryption works. Your information that you’re sending is scrambled (encrypted) and the only person who can unscramble the data to view it is the person on the receiving end with the encryption key. Even government agencies and advanced hackers are unable to unencrypt many forms of encryption.
The other way that your data is secured with Internet fax services is through the use of cloud storage. By now, you should be familiar with cloud storage since it’s used in so many applications. Instead of your information being stored locally, the data is secured and encrypted in the cloud. Not only does this mean your faxes are accessible from any connected device, but you can also avoid potential hacks like malware or just basic theft of your laptop.
Another security advantage offered by the cloud is that you can be sure where the fax is stored. With a traditional fax machine, incoming faxes sit on the fax tray until someone picks it up. Every second that fax page sits there is a moment where it can be stolen or misplaced and fall into the wrong hands. What’s more, even after the fax has been collected, there are still opportunities for the data to be lost. Poor filing and disposal habits can lead to the fax being stolen along with all of the information on it. Of course, there is also a convenience factor to cloud storage. Instead of worrying about losing faxes or keeping them stored securely in your office, you know where they are and how to access them at any time.
How to Make Sure You’re Faxing Securely
Now that you know the risks of Internet fax and the security features implemented to help mitigate some of those risks, how can you be sure you’re faxing securely? With the right security practices, you can make Internet fax one of the most secure forms of communication you will ever use.
First, be sure to create a unique password for your Internet fax account and never share that password with anyone. If you have multiple users that need access to your fax services within the business then you may want to look for a service that offers multiple user accounts within your business account rather than sharing passwords.
Choosing an online faxing service with encryption is also important. We’ve already outlined how encryption can protect your faxes but it’s up to you to choose a service that offers this feature. Some basic online fax services may not offer encryption which means they may not be an ideal solution for your needs if you are sharing extremely sensitive information.
It’s also important to care for your devices which you will be using with your internet fax service. Since online fax providers don’t require physical fax machines, the only equipment you need is a computer or smartphone. Unfortunately, however, these devices – including iPhones and Android phones – can be infected with malware that could potentially steal your information. Be sure to run regular virus scans and exercise care when opening suspicious links or downloading files.
Is Internet Fax More Secure Than Traditional Fax?
Traditional fax machines are generally very secure but they do have a number of flaws that concern the careful handling of sensitive data. For example, faxes may sit out in the open for long periods of time or be mishandled after delivery. Internet fax ensures the information is delivered to cloud storage directly until you are ready to activate it. Also, Internet fax providers often offer industry-leading encryption which protects your fax data from the point of sending to delivery.
Can Physical Fax Machines Be Hacked?
We outlined some of the ways that hackers may put your information at risk online. But what about physical fax machines? They are still vulnerable to hacking and, in many ways, pose a significant risk. When a fax is received at a traditional fax machine, the data is stored in the machine’s memory until erased. Some information may even be kept long term in the fax machine’s hard drive. Malware can be loaded onto some fax machines to read this data. In addition, poor disposal or recycling of old fax machines can cause the hard drives to fall into the hands of hackers who are able to pull information off the drive.
What If the Recipient Doesn’t Have Internet Fax?
When sending a fax via Internet faxing, you may wonder if it’s compatible with users who don’t use online fax. The good news is that they can still receive faxes as normal. And you benefit from data encryption right up to the point of delivery, as well as a convenient archive for your own reference, which is stored in the cloud rather than left in physical form that you need to either store or dispose of yourself.
What Are the Advantages of Cloud Storage Over Physical Storage?
Cloud storage offers a number of advantages over physical storage beyond just the security reasons outlined above. Perhaps the best reason to use cloud storage is accessibility. When a file is stored in the cloud, it is accessible from all of your devices. This means reviewing faxes from your smartphone via a mobile app or laptop on-the-go is quick and easy. Plus, storage costs can be reduced. Many businesses must keep legal documents on hand for a specified period of time. In the financial industry, for example, some documents may need to be kept for up to 10 years. This can lead to boxes upon boxes full of paper, which consumes space and may even require secure offsite storage at a heavy cost. Cloud storage keeps all documents in one place, as long as you need them, with no additional floor space required. Plus, managing storage is easy. Need to pull a file for reference? Just a few clicks. Need to transfer a file from one folder to another? Just drag and drop. No boxes, no paper.