Peter Grant grantpe at gmail.com
Sun Oct 19 12:23:34 UTC 2014

On 19 October 2014 11:12, DL Neil <GLLUG at getaroundtoit.co.uk> wrote:

> On 19/10/14 21:21, Mark Preston wrote:
> > On 19/10/14 01:52, Christopher Hunter wrote:
> >>
> >> On 18/10/14 07:14, Mark Preston wrote:
> >>>
> >>> Faxes are actually very secure.
> >>
> >> Err... No they're not. At all.
> >>
> >> I had the job of designing a fax intercept machine for Police monitoring
> >> of communications traffic way back in the 80s!
> >>
> >> Chris
> >>
> >> _______________________________________________
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> >> GLLUG at mailman.lug.org.uk
> >> https://mailman.lug.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/gllug
> >>
> > Hi Chris,
> > Thank you for your reply, and also thanks to Bernard, Richard and James
> > for their replies to my assertion which may well be wrong. I have no
> > great technical knowledge on this issue, but I am interested to find out
> > more about it. My comment was mainly based on some conversations I had
> > with a person who worked for BT many years ago. He recently died so I
> > can't ask him for clarification. Basically he told me he worked for a
> > special BT unit that installed the phone lines that supplied fax
> > machines and other telecommunications stuff in places like security
> > offices and foreign embassies in London. He claimed that the encryption
> > used for transmitting faxes was very secure.
> >     In the same way that people like police can intercept phone calls I
> > imagine that people can intercept faxes, but in relation to plain text
> > email security this can still be considered very secure. I imagine that
> > your fax intercept machine worked by redirecting the output of the fax,
> > or copying it in some way similar to listening in on a phone call.
> >
> During the Gulf War it was noticed that Saudi Arabia was intercepting
> international faxes - even to/from embassies! One could send a fax and
> phone-ask the recipient to carpe diem, and he'd revert minutes later
> complaining that the fax hadn't arrived ("must be a fault at your end,
> old boy" - never a question of theirs - just in case you think this
> behavior was born at IT Hell|p Desks!). Take no action and sure-enough
> 30~37 mins later the missing transmission would arrive. Interestingly,
> no attempt was made to re-build or obscure the header information.
> If such brazen evidence was not enough, it was obvious something was
> amiss: if one printed a typed-document and then faxed it, with the
> recipient perhaps penning a few comments manually in the margins on his
> hard-copy, which was then faxed-back; the original type was degraded
> way-beyond the usual two-way blurring!
> --
> Regards,
> =dn
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> https://mailman.lug.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/gllug

As far as I understood the reason faxes being considered more secure is a
quirk of British (and I think USA) laws. Intercepting a fax transmission
isn't hard per se, but it's covered in the same laws as tapping someones
telephone. Intercepting an email might be covered by the misuse of
computers act, but it can be rather harder to prove this, and it could so
easily end up going internationally where the law becomes rather more
So, although as a technical exercise neither is secure, unless you send a
fax to an overseas number it has more legal protection than an email. For
legal documents, health records etc this is probably good enough -
hopefully you shouldn't need to worry about the police seeing these,
although if they are tapping your phone line maybe you are!
Just my understanding, IANAL etc.
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