Zeus Kerravala
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his...
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Zeus Kerravala | August 04, 2010 |


Is it Finally Time to Consider UC Security?

Is it Finally Time to Consider UC Security? SIP trunking, new architectures, and standards adoption will all change the security picture--making enterprises more vulnerable.

SIP trunking, new architectures, and standards adoption will all change the security picture--making enterprises more vulnerable.

Securing VoIP and UC traffic has been a topic that our industry has danced around for many years now, but we’ve never really taken this topic all that seriously. I think I wrote my first VoIP security report in 2003 or possibly even earlier, where I looked at all the things that could go wrong, and there are many. The risks are somewhat sizable too. Yankee Group research shows that, depending on the vertical, an hour of downtime for an IP PBX could be as much as $2 million. However, despite the industry hype, the possible risks and threats, the security market for communications technology is almost nothing. So why is that?

One of the main reasons is that network and telecom managers don’t feel that there's a huge risk when it comes to communications, and with legacy architectures, that's somewhat true. Until recently, most IP PBX and UC deployments have had the IP portion isolated to the internal network only. So, typical deployment is to run IP and SIP on the line side of the IP PBX and then everything that is trunk facing is traditional old PSTN stuff; with the IP environment isolated to the internal network, the risk level is minimal.

I also think the VoIP security industry itself has done a poor job of helping customers understand what the real threats are and what they aren't. Things like denial of service attacks (which can cause outages), toll fraud and eavesdropping are real threats, but issues like voice phishing and spam over IP (SPIT) are a little harder for people to grasp. What I've seen out of the VoIP security is that most of the vendors there make all of the security issues urgent instead of picking the two or three issues that could cause the most damage. When 50 things are all critical then really nothing is because it’s too big a problem to address.

The first issue I mentioned is the big barrier, though, and the architecture used to support VoIP and UC is changing. SIP trunking has been on fire over the past 12 months (look at the performance of Acme Packet stock). I've had more inquiries in the past 12 months regarding SIP trunking than in the past 10 years combined. SIP trunking was also a hot topic at the last VoiceCon and will continue to gain momentum. SIP trunking is tremendously powerful as it helps streamline the architecture, creates flexibility and extends the IP connectivity all the way to the telco cloud. However, the extension of IP all the way to the cloud now removes the natural security barrier that was in place with the old architecture.

Additionally, all of the new systems such as Avaya Aura, Cisco Session Manager and other similar products are designed to have all the call control capabilities collapsed down into one or two data centers instead of having the telephony capabilities dispersed across the organization. That means anyone who hacks into the IP PBX has information across the whole organization. Under the "old architecture", if you hacked into the IP PBX you would have visibility to that local branch only. So again, the risk level is up.


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