Safe Faxing Tips and Best Practices

Even in the age of email, faxing remains an excellent way to transmit important documents. Faxes are legally binding, making them a popular choice for attorneys and businesses that need to send contracts remotely. Medical professionals also frequently use faxes to communicate with each other.

However, like any technology, it’s crucial to ensure your fax transmissions are secure, especially when sending sensitive information, and most turn to etherFAX for trusted, secure solutions. Inadequate faxing practices can compromise privacy and damage business relationships. Even accidental privacy violations can result in fines and other legal consequences. For instance, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) mandates businesses to ensure the confidentiality of patient information and protect it from security threats. Similarly, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires companies to safeguard financial data.

Here are some fax safety tips and best practices.

An Overview of Fax Safety

A fax can be sent either through traditional methods or online, each with its own safety and convenience pros and cons.

Traditional faxing uses a fax machine and phone line. One advantage is that phone lines are typically less vulnerable to hackers compared to the Internet. However, paper faxes sent via a machine can be easily picked up by the wrong person on the receiving end without the sender being aware. Additionally, the document might sit by the fax machine for hours, exposed to public view. All-in-one machines often do not accept authentication protocols for faxes, making them susceptible to malicious faxes that can compromise the receiver’s entire network.

Online faxing involves sending a document directly from a computer. If the document wasn’t created on the computer, the user would need to scan it first. This method eliminates the security risk of having the document lie on a machine at the other end, but some online methods introduce various cybersecurity challenges. However, by establishing and following solid security protocols, online faxing can be the most secure option.

Traditional Fax Safety

Implement Safety Protocols for Receivers

As mentioned earlier, a significant security risk of traditional faxes occurs on the receiving end. To avoid having a fax picked up by the wrong person, call the intended recipient just before you send the fax to alert them it’s coming. Whenever possible, fax only to machines in private offices rather than central locations. Consider requiring passcodes for accessing faxes.

Secure the Hard Drive

Another inherent risk lies in how fax machines operate. They work by scanning documents and transmitting the scanned image to the receiver. Some machines retain the image of the scanned fax on their hard drive. If you lease or sell your fax machine, the new recipient can easily access any data stored on the machine’s hard drive.

To mitigate this risk, use a fax machine that automatically wipes the hard drive. Alternatively, negotiate a contract with your lease provider allowing you to keep the hard drive when the lease ends.

Secure Fax Machines If Possible

Traditional fax machine protocols have existed for 30 years, and hackers know how to exploit them. According to Wired, the security protocols for fax machines are poorly documented, and many businesses fail to implement them correctly. Hackers can send malicious faxes to all-in-one machines and access the entire network since these machines generally don’t allow for authentication protocols for faxes. Keeping software updated on these all-in-one machines can lower the risk somewhat, but not completely.

Online Fax Safety

Online faxing is a secure option when you implement the right protocols on devices, servers, and Internet connections. Here are some best practices for online faxes:

Use Encryption Technology

Encrypting faxes from device to delivery is crucial and a regulatory requirement for many types of faxes. Even if hackers gain access to the fax, reading an encrypted fax would take considerable effort. Multiple layers using TLS 1.2 and AES 256-bit encryption are best.

Ensure the Right Sender

Verify that you’re sending information to the correct person. Follow up to ensure their devices and servers are secure and that they will treat the information with care.

Consider Using Electronic Signatures

Electronic signatures reduce the back and forth that accompanies fax transactions requiring actual signatures. The fewer documents sent, the smaller the cybersecurity risks.

Protect Your Server

If you still use an in-house server, take steps to protect it from cyberattacks to ensure online faxes are safe.

  • Constantly upgrade both software and operating systems.
  • Specify access privileges and make them as restrictive as possible. Not every employee needs access to every document your organization stores.
  • Set up virtual private networks (VPNs) to exchange information within the company without any possibility of outside access.
  • Use firewall protection.

Using the Cloud

The cloud is a remote server located in a data center. Using cloud storage instead of an in-house server enhances security. In many cases, using a cloud server transfers responsibility for data security to the third-party data center.

Using a cloud server for storage also helps with tracking documents. You can easily attach documents stored in the cloud without having to scan them.

Keep Devices Secure

Another way to keep faxes secure is by securing your devices. Limit access so that only authorized people can use computers, tablets, and phones. Ensure you don’t leave holes that hackers can exploit.

  • Keep software and operating systems updated.
  • Use long passwords and never use the same password for more than one account. Don’t share passwords by text or email, and lock up any written down.
  • Don’t leave mobile devices unattended. Lock up rooms with computers.
  • Keep your phone locked.
  • Beware of downloads. Adopt policies and procedures that forbid downloads without IT department approval.
  • Enable encryption settings on mobile phones.
  • Install anti-virus software.

Protect Your Networks

Protect your wireless router from strangers or hackers to ensure they can’t gain access to sensitive information.

  • Change the router’s name from the manufacturer’s default to something unique to you or your company.
  • Change the default password to something unique.
  • Keep the router’s software up-to-date.
  • Allow only specific devices to access the network.
  • Encourage employees to be cautious of wireless hotspots, which often lack security features. Only log on to networks that require a WPA2 password.

How To Set Up a Safe Protocol in Your Office

Knowing fax safety practices is only effective if you can implement them office-wide. Companies should consider fax and cybersecurity risks as seriously as any other business risks.

Gain Executive Buy-in

The first step in implementing a safe faxing protocol is to gain the support of everyone in the executive suite. The executive team should then empower someone in writing to implement the security plan. This responsibility can be assigned to an existing executive or a new director of cybersecurity. The key is that the responsibility is clearly designated, and other executives agree to support the individual in this task.

Document and Identify Threats

Next, document what you need to do. Examine the regulations governing the types of faxes your organization sends; for example, is sending a HIPAA-compliant fax a requirement?

Identify potential fax safety threats throughout the organization and determine how to address them. For instance, if you are sending traditional faxes but want to switch to online, decide whether you will use a service or invest in the necessary equipment, infrastructure, and security measures yourself.

Gain Employee Buy-in

Consider how you will implement the new protocol or incorporate the new service provider into your current workflow. A fax API that integrates easily with existing applications can provide a seamless experience.

Involve employees at all levels in establishing the policy. No one likes to feel dictated to from above, and having front-line employee input will lead to better buy-in and a more successful transition.

Once you decide how to implement protocols, communicate your decision clearly to the entire workforce. Explain the reasons for your decisions. Some employees may initially see the new procedures as limiting their freedoms, so you’ll need to convince them that the new protocols protect them from embarrassment, legal hassles, computer viruses, or lost clients.

Create a Compliant Written Policy

Establish a written security policy that complies with the legal requirements of your industry. Ensure that employees read, understand, and sign the policy. The policy should specify password protocols and access permissions and indicate how to secure laptops and mobile devices. Emphasize the importance of this policy for everyone and describe how you will enforce it.

Monitor Progress

Finally, carefully monitor progress with the new protocols and adjust as necessary. Involving employees at all levels in the monitoring process can be helpful as well.

Ask for Help

Online faxing can be a highly secure way of transmitting information, enabling real digital transformation while maintaining safety and security. The key is ensuring that both the provider and the receiver have the right protocols in place and that employees consistently follow them. Establishing these protocols, securing the necessary equipment, and gaining employee buy-in can be challenging and time-consuming tasks.