Andrew Prokop
Andrew Prokop has been heavily involved in the world of communications since the early 1980s. He holds five United States...
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Andrew Prokop | December 12, 2016 |


How Vulnerable Is Your SIP?

How Vulnerable Is Your SIP? While internal hacks are very concerning, it’s the external nature of SIP that makes it especially vulnerable.

While internal hacks are very concerning, it’s the external nature of SIP that makes it especially vulnerable.

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
― Henry David Thoreau

In my relatively short period of time here on planet earth, I've seen changes that not even the most visionary science fiction writers predicted. I came into the world during the time of analog, started my career as digital was just starting to pick up, and now find myself immersed in hyper connectivity and Internet of Things (IoT). I try to keep up as best as I can, but I'll be honest and admit that there are days when I wish the changes would stop coming at me at such a furious rate.

A young Andrew Prokop

Perhaps the areas that have experienced the biggest turmoil are security and privacy. I still have my college ID card, and guess what was used for my student ID? My social security number. Can you imagine anyone dumb enough to do that today? Of course, that was well before the days of big data. Identity theft has only become possible because it's so much easier to do serious damage once a few crucial pieces of information have been uncovered. With little more than my social security number and the name of my elementary school (or something just as insignificant), criminals can wreak havoc on my life and pocketbook.

Of course, identity theft is only the tip of the security breach iceberg. Hackers and criminals look for security holes in everything from medical records systems to personnel databases. As we open up our communications systems to the Internet with Web services and VoIP protocols, we are essentially putting targets on our backs that say to the would-be digital thieves, "Here I am. Come and get me."

I recently came upon a statistic stating that SIP is the most targeted VoIP protocol, accounting for 51% of the security events activity analyzed in the last 12 months. Some of that has to do with the fact that SIP is growing in popularity over its closest competitors, but it's more than simply a rise in the number of SIP connections.

Unlike SIP's closest competitors -- H.323 and Cisco SCCP -- SIP is both an internal and external protocol. While internal hacks are very concerning, it's the external nature of SIP that makes it especially vulnerable. If breaking into an enterprise is as simple as downloading a free SIP soft client from the Apple Store, learning a company's external SIP address, and guessing at passwords, hackers are going to start there before quickly moving into even more sensitive areas.

Did you read about the recent denial of service (DoS) attacks that caused major disruption to websites such as Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, and SoundCloud? Hackers used the fact that most people rarely change the default user and password for IoT devices such as smart baby monitors. Using the default settings, they took control of those devices and used them as they saw fit. What should have been telling Mom and Dad that their sweet little bundle of joy was awake from a nap, suddenly became a tool to prevent Airbnb subscribers from booking vacation rentals.

It's as Vulnerable as A-B-C, One-Two-Three

Sadly, a similar thing occurs with far too many users of VoIP technology. I won't ask for a show of hands, but how many of you log into your SIP phones with a password identical to your extension? If not that, how many of you use "1234"? Unfortunately, I come across both all the time. Sometimes these inadequate passwords are due to a lack of understanding of just how dangerous they are, but it's often the fault of the communications system itself. I don't want to name names, but I know of some really big communications products that do not provide their VoIP users with an easy way to change the passwords on their endpoints. Honestly, that is just sending yet another invitation to be hacked.

Who Did You Say You Were?

Information is money, and while very few of us would stand on a street corner passing out tens and twenties to strangers, the price paid from a pair of loose lips can add up to far more in a much shorter period of time.

Unsecure communications systems and endpoints allow the bad guys to do all sorts of mean and nasty things with voice media streams. Whether it's spoofing caller-ID, listening in on telephone calls, logging into voice mail accounts, or uploading harmful firmware, criminals steal valuable information that can be used for everything from insider trading, to corporate espionage and blackmail.

Batten Down the Hatches

I could go on and on about potential security attacks, but I hope you get the point. There are nasty people out there who want to do bad things to you.

Fortunately, there are solutions. While some are more complicated than others, none are out of reach of any IT department. Here are a few basics that everyone needs to implement right away:

  • Harden your passwords -- Some systems natively support "strong" passwords, but if yours doesn't, invest in an external password management system. Do this for endpoints, servers, voice mail accounts, etc.
  • Encrypt -- This is important for internal and external traffic. Make sure that you encrypt both media and signaling. Meta data can be as valuable as the media it wraps.
  • Deploy a Session Border Controller -- You don't go on the Internet without a virus checker or firewall on your PC. Think of an SBC as just as essential.
  • Look to the Cloud -- There are a number of security measures that can be taken before telephone calls ever get to your enterprise. For a few ideas as to what you can do, take a look at my article, Hacking as a Service Part Two: Help is Here.
Mischief Managed

Did I scare you? Good. This is serious stuff, people, and I am surprised at how many organizations still have gaping security holes in their communications platforms. Not taking the necessary steps to lock down systems and endpoints is like putting a social security number on a college ID. Not securing your voice traffic is just as dumb and perhaps far more dangerous and costly.

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

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