Voice-over-IP, or VoIP, systems are one of the most cost-effective voice solutions a company can implement. The technology uses Session Initiation Protocol, or SIP, as the standard signaling for internet telephony, which can be provided much more cost-efficiently and reliably than other voice networks. As a result, VoIP became crucial in maintaining remote operations for many companies throughout the pandemic.
However, since these systems differ from traditional voice connections by running over a data network rather than a separate network, security must be a top concern. Understanding all aspects of VoIP and its relation to other network elements is the key to successfully implementing this technology and ensuring network integrity.
Even companies that have been using VoIP for years may want to revisit their security measures for several reasons. The move to remote working has resulted in many more companies moving to a distributed networking model comprised of a patchwork of home networks, routers, and unmanaged devices. Additionally, all voice connections are subject to fraudulent callers. And while credit card reimbursement is protected under law, VoIP fraud is not. Unfortunately, this can result in tremendous costs for your company that are difficult – if not impossible – to recover.
Additionally, for most companies, VoIP isn’t only a voice connection that enables calling. Rather, it combines phone capabilities with text or chat functions, shared meetings, videoconferencing, scheduling, and file or data transferring. Managing security for such a robust tool can be incredibly challenging.
Like most network elements, VoIP systems are complex and prone to specific vulnerabilities, such as:
- Hackers may eavesdrop similar to the way traditional phones lines may be “tapped.” This risk could result in the loss of sensitive personal identification information for customers and employees or the loss of important business information or trade secrets. In many instances, if data such as passwords, user names, and other protected information is shared, identity theft becomes another risk. And if the hackers gain access to the system itself, they can access voicemail, forward numbers, and manipulate conversations.
- Similar to other internet-based applications, VoIP equipment and software may be vulnerable to viruses, malware, and other digital attacks. These systems are often used on portable devices or laptops, making them vulnerable to malicious code.
- Phishing is also another common attack over VoIP systems. These attacks work the same way as any other phishing attack, with someone impersonating an employee or using social engineering strategies to gain access to sensitive information. And with the limited protections from fraud, this type of data loss can be especially devastating.
- Denial of Service (DoS) attacks can work on VoIP systems, as well, when attackers overwhelm the network with calls. Ultimately, the attacker can use this method to control system administrative tools to harm the network further and manipulate other systems.
Even relatively harmless methods that misuse a VoIP system, such as IP spoofing to display an incorrect name for the caller and audio spam, can present a financial drain on the company by wasting valuable employee time and negatively impacting productivity. Company owners and managers cannot afford to be lax about network security, and that means attending to all deficiencies, even those related to their VoIP systems.
There are several best practices that companies can explore in order to increase their VoIP security, including:
- Multifactorial Authentication: Since VoIP uses portable devices and computers, one of the best ways to secure the VoIP system is by securing the endpoints. Security policies should enforce the requirement for strong passwords, including complexity requirements, regular expiration, no-repeat use, etc. Enabling two-factor or multi-factor authentication is also crucial for all digital security concerns.; this requires the user to provide a piece of secondary identification information before permitting access.
- Disable Unnecessary Features: Most VoIP systems offer the users an incredible amount of flexibility to meet the needs of any business. However, most businesses don’t need all of the features that are offered. Some features, such as international calling, can introduce additional risks, such as toll fraud. If your company doesn’t require frequent international calls, you can disable this feature to limit risk. If you frequently make international calls and cannot disable the feature entirely, you can enable geofencing, which will prevent connections to areas with heavy hacking activity.
- Enable Encryption and Other Security Features: Data encryption is a great way to beef up the security across all network traffic, including VoIP traffic. Some VoIP providers can ensure all call data sent between the servers and your network is encrypted. Others will offer end-to-end encryption for the life of the data. In either instance, encryption prevents those who might gain access to the system from acquiring usable data.
- Install Security Patches: Security patches are important for all digital equipment. These patches often address newly-discovered security vulnerabilities. If your VoIP system doesn’t have the latest firmware or patches, you will have security gaps and vulnerabilities that can be exploited. The best way to stay up-to-date is by creating a schedule to perform regular assessments and update anything out of date.
- Review System Information: Another crucial security practice is reviewing the system information, such as detailed call analytics, regularly. Looking at this data can often alert you of red flags. For example, if there are major changes in things like the number of incoming or outgoing calls or the average call duration, it may be a good idea to investigate further.
- Limit Access: As with most other digital equipment, it’s also a good idea to restrict access to everything except for those individuals who require access to conduct their tasks. Physical access to the networking equipment should be limited to only the IT team. And user permissions should only be created for those who must use each application, including VoIP.
And finally, one of the best ways to ensure your VoIP system is secure is by working with a reputable vendor or managed service provider. Doing your homework upfront and partnering with the best professionals in the industry can make everything operate much more smoothly and minimize your security risks. This method ensures that you can focus on running and managing your business!