Follow-Up: Are Your Law Office Fax Machines Holding Confidential Images?

With the recent attention on copier hard drive security and the potential for confidential information to fall into unfriendly hands, our clients are asking the next logical question:  if my copiers are storing confidential information, what about my law office fax machines?

Industry best practices tell us we should not be using facsimile as a means of transmitting or receiving confidential client information unless both the sending and receiving devices are equipped with sophisticated (read: expensive) encryption equipment.  This has become an industry standard in businesses like law, medicine, banking and human services, businesses that maintain a great deal of personal information. But can that information be harvested for criminal purposes after you dispose of the fax equipment?

The quick and most probable answer is “no”.  Fax and copier technology, while similar in some aspects, are quite different when it comes to processing images. Copiers or multifunction devices (MFDs) use a hard drive (HDD), much like the one in your computer to store images for copy, print, scan, and fax.  These images remain on the hard drive until it is full, then the copier overwrites the old images with new images.  Depending on the capacity of the hard drive, images can remain there indefinitely, or until erased.

Most fax machines do not use a hard drive to process images. Instead, they use RAM (Random Access Memory) to store and process each job.  Once a fax job is complete, the machine overwrites that job with the image from the next job. So, at any time, the only image stored in the fax machine is the image from the last job (either sent or received). The key difference here is that RAM only retains that image when the machine is powered “on”.  Once the machine is turned “off”, or you have a power outage, the RAM memory is lost.

We recommend having your office services staff periodically power down the fax machines to automatically erase any latent images. In any event, when it comes time to dispose of the fax machines, any stored information will be erased as soon as the machine is unplugged.  You may have noticed that the last paragraph said “most” fax machines do not use hard drives.  We highly recommend you consult your equipment dealer to confirm this is the case with your particular brand(s) and model(s).

 As always, feel free to contact Mattern & Associates if you have any questions.