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Importance of VoIP Encryption

Updated on March 6, 2012

VoIP Security Concerns

As VoIP is still a relatively new technology compared to the decades-old PSTN system it has not received the same amount of care and attention that the latter has had. Eavesdropping on telephone lines has been around for a long while and both attackers as well as those who would like to keep the conversations private are used to the challenges. In addition, law enforcement agencies have a well-established route for obtaining wiretaps on traditional lines. VoIP on the other hand has not yet settled down and there is no specific standardized way by which law enforcement can listen in on suspects.

While this might seem secure, the truth is that VoIP is far more vulnerable to eavesdropping than a regular line. This is because the digital transmission of IP packets can be easily intercepted with the right equipment with no discernible evidence of tampering. We hope that one day in the future, quantum computing may provide a watertight method for such detection but as of now we have to make do with the tools available to us. There are a few ways of doing this and encryption is the strongest way of making sure that private conversations remain private. This can take place on many levels.

VoIP Encryption
VoIP Encryption

VoIP Encryption

The simplest way of ensuring that all VoIP calls go through securely is to connect to the Internet using a virtual private network or a VPN. This is probably the most secure way of communication. The only weak point is at the client itself or at the server. While in transit, the traffic stream is virtually impregnable. But not everyone can rely on a virtual private network all the time. Specifically those who travel regularly might find themselves having to deal with an Internet connection that is not secure and which can be intercepted without much effort. To deal with this, we need encryption to be built into the VoIP service itself. Either at the signaling or at the media level.

Certain proprietary VoIP protocols such as that used by Skype are encrypted by default. SIP on the other hand doesn't yet have a standardized and widely implemented encryption methodology. It still pretty much ad hoc. As VoIP gains acceptance in both the business and the retail realm, such security has to come baked in and become standardized for users of sensitive information to have confidence in it. Certain SIP clients already provide a framework for VoIP encryption. But until everyone settles down on a standardized methodology, VoIP calls will never have the end to end and security that would be ideal.

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