IP telephony replaces a century of tradition

Voice over IP and IP telephony is set to revolutionize 100 years of traditional telephone communication but it could also prove to be the weakest link in a secure and robust enterprise.

While the US has led the IP telephony market, the most aggressive adoption is occurring in the Asia-Pacific region but scant attention is being paid to security.

This could be a perilous move considering the introduction of VoIP means that voice traffic needs to be treated in the same context as data for security purposes since it will share a common medium.

Enterasys chief technical officer John Roese said the number of devices connecting to a single, converged IP network are many and varied, but industry still focuses on securing Windows PCs.

"From digital surveillance to building control systems, process lines, production systems, IP-enabled printers, photocopiers, ticket readers and refrigerators - all these devices are on, or are now entering the network and yet our security models have an unnatural infatuation with the Windows PC with a human attached to it," Roese said.

One of the more disconcerting threats that can occur is the injection of swear words into conversations; the words are placed in VoIP streams, by an external source, without the phone users even hearing it.

This is in addition to spam over Internet telephony and denial of service attacks that can cripple voice servers with floods of call setup signals. Encryption of voice traffic is essential to avoid eavesdropping, according to a KPMG report released last week into the risks of VoIP adoption. VoIP is also susceptible to viruses depending on the telephone handset operating system; handsets may also require virus protection, according to the report.

Despite these concerns interest continues to spiral with Cisco Systems confirming it has shipped more than 170,000 IP phones to more than 500 customers across Australia.

Research firm Frost & Sullivan said Cisco is the leading IP vendor in Australia with 47 percent market share.

Cisco Australia and New Zealand managing director Ross Fowler said the IP trend is irreversible as companies abandon inefficient PABX-based telephony for feature-rich IP systems.

While cost savings continues to be the main driver behind IP adoption, Gartner vice president Bob Hayward said it will soon change.

"Most companies using IP say they would have made the change years ago regardless of cost savings once they realize the new level of functionality they have in place," Hayward said.

"I know of one company that has reduced its $US2 million a year phone bill to less than US$150,000."

Michael Crawford contributed to this report

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