VoIP Services Are Vulnerable to Attack

John Ashcroft, Attorney General, in remarks at the High Technology Crime Investigation Association 2004 International Training Conference held on September 13, 2004 stated, “We have seen worms and viruses attack?disrupting basic services?And with the increased use of the Internet and especially peer-to-peer networking, we have seen malicious code spread more quickly and infect more personal computers than ever before. The cost of these worms, viruses, and denial-of-service attacks?reaches into the billions of dollars.”

In an article written by Daniel A. Morris, Assistant US Attorney, Computer and Telecommunications Coordinator with the District of Nebraska stated in “Tracking a Computer Hacker”, that the “The modern thief can steal more with a computer than with a gun. Tomorrow’s terrorist may be able to do more damage with a keyboard than with a bomb.”

Ralph Echemendia, head of Intense School which trains executives regarding network security risks, stated that “Telecom providers are one of the main targets for malicious attackers because they control communications for everybody.”

Sophisticated hackers have learned how to tap into sensitive information traveling on the Internet, and their focal point is communication.

How is this possible?

It is fairly simple. First, you should be aware that email services operate off of email servers, and web services operate off of web servers. Both email servers and web servers are built for data and not for voice.

Because VoIP has voice, it requires a system that will convert the voice into data packets to travel across the Internet, and then convert back to voice at destination. However, VoIP should not be considered just another application residing on a data network, as it necessitates a real time service due to performance expectations (e.g., quality of sound).

The majority of VoIP computer phones require a minimum of 20 kps (kilobytes per second) of bandwidth (information carrying capacity) for data packets to travel across the Internet, which is why most require a minimum high speed Internet connection in order to function without corrupting the quality of the voice.

Although in the minority, a few VoIP computer phone providers, some of which are reputable, require a minimum of less than 10 kps (kilobytes per second) of bandwidth (information carrying capacity), which is why their services can be used with dial-up connections or high speed (e.g., cable), satellite, and wireless connections.

Over 90% of VoIP services operate using industry standard codec (encryption codes) and industry standard protocols.

Computers are assigned a different numeric Internet Protocol (IP) address while on line, which is analogous to mail where you would have an identity location with your street number, city, state and zip code.

Relative to a protocol, the IP (Internet Protocol) address is a number that identifies the user and their computer. Industry standard codec and industry standard protocols are open and interpretable to the public. Unscrupulous hackers frequently launch their attacks against VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services that operate on these publicly open and interpretable standards.

Broadband Phone Technology

Broadband Phone Technology

For the uninitiated, the term broadband phone is loosely used to describe the technology currently available where one can make telephone calls from a telephone system that sends the voice signal over your internet connection. The call may terminate at a regular phone line or another broadband phone.

Until recently, the technology was not being used widely because of its perceived limitations, including lack of features available. The primary issue however has been that of poor call quality.

Now, continuing improvements in the industry and increased competition pushing the development of the technology have resulted in significant progress, to the extent that some analysts now predict that broadband phones (really Voice over Internet Protocol technologies) will dominate the long distance calling market by 2010 – maybe sooner.

Here are some specific reasons why you may find broadband phones a good fit at this stage.

Reason #1: Portability and Ease of Use

The equipment provided by the broadband phone companies can be used wherever you have access to a high speed connection. Most broadband service companies do not restrict you from traveling with your phone. As long as the network that you are plugging into will “automagically” assign your broadband device an internet address (IP address) – and most will – you are up and running.

This means that you can be in a hotel in Japan and still be accessible at the same phone number – your kids or staff don’t need to know the hotel’s number.

Reason #2: Long Distance Savings

Broadband services typically come with lower long distance rates than you can get from most traditional carriers. This calculates into immediate cost savings. Some services allow you to add one or more virtual numbers to your main phone number. This means that your phone may be able to receive calls from 2 or more different area codes. This virtually eliminates long-distance phoning charges for anyone calling within those numbers’ area codes.

Reason #3: Freedom from Tariffs

For the time being, calls made over the internet are not subject to a lot of the tariffs that afflict your regular phone bill. How long will this persist? There are different opinions on this in the industry, but right now it’s a nice advantage that makes for an even lower phone bill.

Reason #4: Availability of High Speed Internet

All the cost saving and convenience reasons already mentioned would not do much to propel the growth of the broadband phone market if consumers did not have access to high speed connections at their homes. Broadband phones perform the best when using cable or DSL highspeed internet connections.

Reason #5: Clarity of Sound

The top reason why broadband phone services are currently making swift inroads is that the call quality has significantly improved. All of the major players now offer services that work satisfactorily for residential use and some can consistently meet the most stringent business requirements for clarity.

Finally, considering the initial small investment that may be required to get a broadband phone account up and running, the volume of savings you are likely to experience within a short period is very significant. The flexibility, ease of use (technical know-how not needed) combined with improvement in quality definitely makes this bandwagon a good ride.


How VoIP Works — Busting Out of Long Distance Rates

How VoIP Works

VoIP is the newest advancement in audio communications technology, and has a variety of different applications that make it useful. VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol, and how VoIP works is actually quite revolutionary because it streamlines the process of sending analog audio signals by converting them to a much easier to send digital form for transmission.

To understand how VoIP works, you’ll need to understand the basic concept behind regular analog audio communication as well, since this is the precursor for VoIP. Analog phone calls are actually made via fiber optic networks by digitizing your voice communications for sending the signal across thousands of miles, but once it gets to the final destination (a home or office phone, for instance), the signal is once again converted to analog.

During these calls, the switches remain open even while there is dead air and no conversation is taking place; the circuit is also open in both directions even when only one party is talking and the other is listening. This isn’t terribly efficient, and slows down the communication of information considerably.

Packet switching streamlines VoIP

VoIP works on a different premise — rather than circuit switching, data packet switching sends and receives information only when you need it instead of in a constant stream. It also sends the information packets along whatever open channels are available rather than a dedicated line, which is much more efficient. The information is simply reassembled at the source.

The payload of each packet has a destination coded into it determining the ultimate destination. When the computer at the other end receives all of these packets, it will reassemble the information into useable form. This form of sending audio data is extremely efficient because it always takes the cheapest route that is also the least congested.

The compression of information and use of multiple routes in order to send that information over the most efficient route makes sending audio over packet switching quicker, much less expensive and more efficient. The number of calls that can be sent is orders of magnitude higher than it was with the more traditional analog circuit switching systems.

For companies, the savings in long distance charges can be in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year. If companies also make extensive conference calls, VoIP makes even more sense when combined with conferencing options such as document sharing in systems offered by companies like Voxwire and iVocalize.

Different types of VoIP calling are available

The most commonly used VoIP system is from one computer to another. To set up this type of service, you will need to have a sound card installed in both computers along with microphones and Internet connections. For practical purposes, you’ll want a broadband connection or DSL — a dial-up modem will be so slow the sound quality just won’t be that good. Aside from that, all you need is a software package that can set you up with everything you need to use VoIP to make phone calls to whomever is also set up with the same system.

You can also invest in IP phones if you want something that looks just like your standard analog telephones but with VoIP connectability. These simply replace the old-style RJ-11 connectors with Ethernet connectors (RJ-45). Hardware such as routers and the needed software are built right in.
Analog telephone adaptors (ATA) enable you to connect a standard telephone to your computer Internet connection in order to take advantage of VoIP options. ATA converts analog signals to digital so that it can be transmitted properly via the Internet.

The newest option on the market is the Wi-Fi phone, which uses short-distance Internet transmission of VoIP to replace cell phones calls. Wi-Fi broadcasts over the radio spectrum to cover short range areas for users in certain areas, and these “hot spots” have popped up across the U.S.
The upshot of VoIP is that standard long-distance charges may soon become a thing of the past. As more and more consumers turn on to VoIP and broadband connections make it easy and inexpensive (as well as practical) to make phone calls over the Internet, fewer individuals will be willing to pay high rates to make a telephone call they can make for free or next to nothing via their computer.

VoIP saves you money on long distance

There’s no by-the-minute charges with VoIP, no set-up fees, and no “time of day” or overages. That’s the great thing about VoIP plans. You just pay a monthly fee and get to make all the calls you want over your computer for one monthly fee. It’s so simple and elegant, and it’s the solution that everyone’s been wanting and waiting for far too long.

You don’t have to wait for a certain time of day of day of the week to make telephone calls with VoIP. There’s also the advantage of being able to use your VoIP connection from anywhere — remember, you’re not tied to a phone jack to use your number, but an Internet connection, so you can call from anywhere with many calling plans.

Some of the companies that offer excellent VoIP plans with unlimited calling are listed below with their most popular options:

Vonage currently offers a $24.95 per month unlimited VoIP package to anywhere in the U.S. or Canada. It includes voicemail, call forwarding, three way calling, call waiting and caller ID.
Packet 8 can provide unlimited VoIP for $19.95 a month in the U.S. and Canada with a variety of features like call waiting and three-way calling, and can also give you video phone service for about $29.95 per month.
AT&T;’s CallVantage provides the usual U.S. and Canada broadband calling with voicemail, call waiting, etc. along with email, a call log and a ‘do not disturb’ option, all for $29.99 a month. You also get to keep your phone number for life, no matter where you go — a great feature for some who move around a lot.
VoIP in web conferencing packages

VoIP is used in almost all web conferencing services as an alternative to standard conference calls, and looking into these packages will give you an idea of some ways to combine VoIP with extras such as white boards, document sharing and video. For less expensive options, many companies can provide strictly audio VoIP conference calls combined with text messaging and document sharing without video.

Some companies that offer VoIP in web conferencing packages separate from video conferencing are:

Voxwire offers voice communication with features like auto-queue, mute options, individual speaker adjustments and moderator controls along with a “follow me” browser system so that all participants can view a shared desktop. Two persons can use VoIP for $9.95 a month, or up to ten in a conference environment for $29.95 per month.
VoiceCafé provides similar services with a wide range of options that vary from packages with VoIP capability for five people at a time on a conference call to up to 500 in one conference call, all for a flat monthly fee. The prices vary depending upon what package you choose, and there are several.

iVocalize offers VoIP along with Internet conferencing options like PowerPoint presentation capabilities and presentation recording for future playback. They also provide optional Unicode translation in thirteen languages. The most basic VoIP package begins at $10.00 a month with a prices going up incrementally depending upon your needs and how many will be involved in your conference calls.

It is obvious that conference calling as well as standard long distance calling will be changing greatly in the near future as VoIP changes the landscape of telephone service. “Land lines” for long distance calling will eventually become obsolete as broadband becomes more common and makes VoIP just as commonplace as any other type of telephone call.

Things You Should Consider When Selecting a VoIP Provider

VoIP Provider

The following are very important factors to consider when you are selecting a VoIP provider. Educate yourself and be informed before you choose.

Monthly costs: A VoIP provider can save you up to 75% on your telephone/long distance expenses. There are many VoIP providers out there so it will benefit you from shopping around. Unlimited calling packages can range from $19.95/month to as high as $54.95/month. Usually the lower priced providers have more customers and are able to offer the service at a lower price due to a lower overhead per subscriber.

VoIP Product Features: Not all VoIP providers are created equal. VoIP offers a great value to the consumers because of the drastically reduced long distance costs as well as inexpensive local phone service with lots of enhanced features. Some providers offer more features than others. Features like Call Waiting, 3 Way Calling, etc. are usually included in the VoIP monthly cost where as the traditional phone companies will charge up to and above $5/month per feature. When shopping for a VoIP provider, be sure to compare VoIP providers by features as well as by monthly price.

Keeping Your Number: Some providers allow you to transfer (port) your current phone number to the VoIP service and some providers do not. It is not recommended to switch your home number to the VoIP service immediately. It is recommended that you try out the service and see if you are satisfied before you request that your current number be switched. Keep in mind that if you have DSL service, you must retain a phone number with the service provider of the DSL because the DSL service is provided over that telephone line. If you want to get rid of your current phone company all together, then we suggest you use a Cable Internet Service Provider.

911 Service: Most of the VoIP carriers offer E911 service, but not all. Be sure to check if the VoIP provider offers E911 because it is not a given. If the VoIP provider does not offer E911, then we suggest that you either have a cell phone or traditional landline to use in case of an emergency. (Note: It is also important to point out that if you take your VoIP phone when traveling, E911 has no way of knowing where you are when you call 911 if you are away from the registered address.)

International Calling: If you make a lot of international calls, you will want to do a lot of research on International Rates as they vary by provider. There are a few carriers that offer unlimited calling to certain countries.

Money Back Guarantee: Since VoIP is a relatively new product; most all VoIP providers will offer a free money back guarantee. Be sure to check with each provider as we have seen the money back guarantees range from a 14-day to a 30-day money back guarantee. (Note: Be sure to keep the original packaging that your equipment came in just in case you need to send it back)

This is only a short list. In fact, there are many things to consider when choosing a VoIP provider. An educated consumer generally results in a satisfied consumer.