NIST raises VoIP concerns

"NIST Special Publication 800-58: Security Considerations for Voice over IP Systems"

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Government administrators may not understand the complexity of installing security systems for Internet telephony, a new government study suggests.

Officials at the National Institute of Standards and Technology released a Jan. 5 report that examines security vulnerabilities in Internet-based telephone systems and raises concerns about an emerging technology that otherwise appears to offer many advantages over traditional telephone networks. Security concerns described in the 99-page report suggest that the cost and complexity of installing such systems is greater than people realize.

Many government agencies, including the Defense Information Systems Agency, plan to use voice-over-IP networks. Military commanders rely heavily on such systems in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some administrators mistakenly assume that they can plug voice-over-IP components into a secure network and have secure voice communications. But the report's authors say that security measures such as firewalls and encryption used in traditional data networks are incompatible with current Internet-based telephone systems and can cause serious deterioration in the voice quality possible on such systems.

The report states that "essential telephone services, unless carefully planned, deployed and maintained, will be at greater risk if based on voice over IP." For example, data networks must be adapted by adding firewalls designed specifically for voice over IP.

To compensate for the current security vulnerabilities of voice-over-IP technology, NIST officials made several recommendations, including:

Creating separate subnetworks for voice and data traffic on IP networks, each with their own dynamic host configuration protocol servers.

Ensuring that 911 emergency service is available.

Securing physical access to the network's voice components to prevent unauthorized eavesdropping on conversations.

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