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October 12, 2009

Ingate on VoIP Theft: Layered Security, Common Sense Are the Best Protections


By SIP Trunking Report Editor



VoIP theft – a problem that some say can total as 200 million stolen minutes per month – has emerged as a problem mainly for service providers, the president of Ingate Systems told TMCnet in an interview.


 

According to Steven Johnson – whose company develops firewall technology and products that enable SIP communications for the enterprise while maintaining control and security at the network edge – customers who see that they’ve been billed for phone calls they didn’t make simply will refuse to pay.

 

“The customer will say, ‘Gee, we never called Indonesia,’ and refuse to pay basically,” Johnson said. “It becomes a big issue for service providers because they have to pay whatever carriers there are between here and there, and they’re not getting any revenue on their side.”

 

One major cause of VoIP theft, Johnson said, is when people who install open source PBXs bother to change default settings for passwords and user names.

 

“So that if they go in with a user name of ABC and password of 123 and that’s how the PBX is delivered, it never changes,” Johnson told TMCnet. “Once someone figures that out, it becomes easy to hack into a system and hijack it for their own benefit. They wait for Friday night and wait to hack into a service, then make long-distance calls and get off on Monday.”

 

Businesses involved in IP telephony must education companies on those basic points, Johnson said.

 

“What we’re delivering, a PBX, is really like any other server on a network, and it would be v surprising to me if someone had an Oracle server or acting server or email server and left themselves completely wide open to the public Internet,” Johnson said. “And yet people are very willing to do this with a PBX. We see the phone system as the lifeblood of a business, so it’s surprising to see that level of carelessness, because it does have the potential of having things stolen from it.”

 

For Johnson, in addition to changing passwords, companies also should consider installing a session border controller – or “SBC” – and a firewall, to prevent hacking.

 

“We strongly believe that even if PBXs are strongly designed with built-in capabilities, it’s important to take a layered security approach,” he said.

 

 

It was a subject that one cyber security insider addressed recently at ITEXPO – an event that will take place again from Jan. 20 to 22 in Miami.

 

Typical VoIP sales pitches do not address critical issues of security, and problems such as the theft of IP telephony minutes often are swept under the carpet and go uncovered by mainstream media outlets, according to Paul Henry, a security analyst and consultant at central Florida-based Forensics & Recovery LLC

 

Companies that promote and sell VoIP services are short-cutting security to provide widely desired cost-savings, Henry said.

 

“Dropping VoIP in on top of network infrastructure is suicide today,” he said. “Yes, it can be simply layered into an existing network, but you are leaving yourself wide open to a myriad of issues. The ideal way to deploy it is on a dedicated network with a separate infrastructure. But all that new gear eliminates any possible savings.”

 

Some VoIP threats do not yet hit the United States as hard as they’ve hit other parts of the world, Henry said, include “VoIP Phishing,” which takes a VoIP construct and sends out an e-mail asking recipients to call a local number to correct some sort of falsified problem, as well as “SpIT” – or “Spam over Internet Telephony,” which will work like regular spam except that instead of a text message sent through e-mail, victims will receive unwanted phone calls.

 

Johnson said he hasn’t heard as much about problems such as VoIP phishing and SpIT as he has about VoIP theft.

 

Mostly likely, there are not enough residential VoIP subscribers in the United States to make that kind of massive attack worthwhile to cybercriminals, Johnson said.

 

“I know VoIP is coming up the curve, but probably at this point there isn’t enough of an installed base,” he said. “It is, again, something that a true SBC can prevent because we can block addresses and look for those anomalies of people looking to do that kind of thing before it got into your company.”


Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan