Technological innovation is transforming how we communicate and work with each other. Research conducted by Blueface found that at least 61% of companies are switching from phone landlines to VoIP solutions. This has been accelerated by the shift to blended and remote working following the global pandemic.
Of course, these new technologies also come with drawbacks and unfamiliar challenges for IT staff and management to grapple with. Are you new to VoIP communication and want to learn more about the security risks of these services? Well, this article will explore the vulnerabilities of VoIP and what you can do to protect your business communications.
What Is VoIP?
Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is a method of communication that allows Internet users to speak to one another over Internet devices. You will have encountered it in services such as Skype, Zoom, or Dialpad.
VoIP is sold by a range of companies, so there’s plenty of options to choose from to ensure you get the best fit for your business. VoIP differs from traditional telephony communications because it uses a different architecture to relay voice data between devices. Telephones send data through dedicated telephony switching centers, whereas VoIP uses Internet domains instead.
The relative ease of VoIP communication solutions and their variety of features included as part of the offer, such as a phone number forwarding service, video meetings, and auto attendant make them an attractive choice for companies.
Today, many services offer VoIP as a cloud-based service, following a clear trend in business tech areas, e.g., cloud ERP vs. traditional ERP.
However, these services introduce new dynamics to organizational cybersecurity too. As such, network admins must be familiar with the techniques used by cyber attackers to determine if their company systems are truly secure.
How Vulnerable Is VoIP to Cybersecurity Threats?
Technology that you may use in your business, involves a wealth of data. Using VoIP to make calls is no different as it also transfers of a vast amount of data, making it a potentially lucrative target for cybercriminals. This is especially true for calls that disclose sensitive information, such as senior management meetings, B2C, and B2B conversations.
By learning how cybercriminals operate, you can plan your cybersecurity operation accordingly. Some of the most common tactics used by VoIP attackers include:
Preying on Weak Security Credentials
VoIP systems are often protected with a standard username and password system. There may be one master password associated with the admin account, with all other user accounts also have their individual password protection.
One weakness in the user/password model is that VoIP products and services are shipped with factory default settings. For example, the password may be a simple phrase such as ‘null,’ ‘password,’ or ‘admin.’
Cybercriminals are well aware of these default password terms and will often try them as a first attempt for infiltrating VoIP systems. Subsequently, network admins must select secure custom usernames and passwords and encourage network users to follow suit.
One common source of attack on a VoIP system is through the network that the machine is hosted on. Computers need a way to upload and download information to the Internet, usually through a central location such as a Wi-Fi router.
This centralized model means that routers and network devices are a ripe source of attack for cybercriminals. For example, every company’s PC may be connected to the same Wi-Fi router; so if that router is compromised, the entire network security goes out the window.
As such, your cybersecurity model must not focus just on the machines, users, and services but also on the wider network they are hosted on.
The word ‘cyber attack’ may conjure up images of shady hackers writing lines of malicious code to exploit their victims’ machines. However, many cyber criminals employ a more basic method: social engineering.
Social engineering or phishing is a method of manipulating a victim by convincing them to disclose information or privileges. For example, a cybercriminal may send an email to an employee posing as their boss, a customer, or another company (known as a man-in-the-middle attack).
You may also find that phishing hackers use spoofed caller IDs – essentially an imitation attempt to fool your employees. To avoid managerial phone numbers leaking, you may ask your staff to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
After establishing this level of trust, the attacker will ask for access to sensitive material. Throughout the process, they will use tactics such as demanding urgency and putting pressure to follow through on their request. Thus, the first line of defense is your employees, and you must train them effectively to identify and quash phishing attempts.
Computer viruses are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their operation. These days, simply visiting a dodgy website can cause a malicious script to inject into your browser (known as an XSS attack).
From here, the virus can change a user’s settings, potentially opening an avenue for attack. For example, it may install a keylogger onto your PC, allowing the cyber attacker to steal sensitive data such as passwords.
In the context of VoIP applications, malware can snoop on conversations that may appear at first glance to be secure. In essence, you must incorporate anti-virus services into your cybersecurity solution.
Why You Need Encrypted VoIP
The common sources of attack outlined above demonstrate how crucial it is for companies to install adequate cybersecurity systems. It is especially true in remote work environments where all data is transferred across the Internet.
Fail to do this, and sensitive data belonging to your business and its customers may be leaked to criminals and competitors. Not only that, but a hacked VoIP system may rack up high fees for your business. If the attacker is regularly creating or joining VoIP calls, you may find that your provider hits you with an eye-watering end-of-month bill.
Methods for VoIP Encryption
Fortunately for network admins, there are ways to defend VoIP systems against cybersecurity threats. Even if an attacker gains access to your network, you may use encrypted VoIP to mitigate the data loss.
VoIP encryption works by scrambling the ‘packets’ of voice data and then reassembling them once they reach their desired recipient. It prevents attackers from intercepting and making sense of the stolen data. As such, you should view using the best VoIP and best VPN encryption as integral to your phone system for business. There are several methods for achieving this:
The simplest method of encryption uses something called Transport Layer Security (TLS). This works by scrambling VoIP data when it travels across the Internet. It means that sensitive data like the names of callers, phone numbers, and message content are unreadable to anyone who intercepts them.
Quality VoIP services will also offer encryption methods that adhere to the Advanced Encryption Standard. It allows for end-to-end encryption, meaning that a hacker cannot decipher the meaning of VoIP calls even if they gain access to the host network.
Rather, the data is encrypted until it reaches the recipient’s device when it translates back to a readable format. This method of encryption uses the Secure Real-Time Transport Protocol (SRTP). Data packets transferred via SRTP require an authenticated security certificate to be deciphered, giving them a high standard of security.
Best VoIP Security Practices for IT Teams
Looking to implement a VoIP communications solution? Well, you should familiarize yourself with various cybersecurity practices in addition to encrypting your VoIP data. We have put together a checklist that will help to keep your system protected:
1. Only Use Strong Passwords
This one may seem obvious, but it is worth saying as so many Internet users continue to slip up here. Think of your passwords as keys to your digital identity. Lose your password, and you lose everything associated with that account. Ergo, your passwords must be unique, have more than eight characters, and should use symbols and numbers.
2. Run Regular Antivirus Checks
Malware can be difficult to avoid, which is why most companies integrate antivirus checkers into their cybersecurity solutions. To get the most out of this, you should run these checks regularly to maximize your chances of spotting viruses before they cause damage.
You may consider integrating the data recorded from antivirus checks into an ETL file so you can monitor the sources of malware.
3. Keep Your Machines and Software up to Date
Most of the time, software updates aren’t there to introduce new features but rather to patch glitches and security vulnerabilities. Therefore, you should keep your PC software up to date, turning on auto-updates if necessary.
4. Make Sure that Your Network Devices are Physically Protected
A common adage in the cybersecurity world is that if a hacker gains access to a physical device, there is very little you can do to protect it. The solution to this is to ensure that your devices are under lock and key in secure locations.
5. Implement Remote Device Management as a Backup Plan
Remote device management allows your IT staff to virtually control your company’s devices from any PC that has the software installed. This ensures that you will have round-the-clock protection, with admins able to respond to threats rapidly.
6. Educate Your Employees about VoIP Security
Finally, always teach cybersecurity tips while managing remote employees. As was mentioned earlier, your staff are often the first line of defense against cyber attackers. As such, they must be adequately prepared to identify, prevent, and report attacks.
Get Started on Secure VoIP
This article has covered the basic building blocks of a secure VoIP communications solution. By now, you should have a good understanding of what techniques malicious actors use to steal VoIP data and the various lines of defense open to you.
For new starters, you may favor a VoIP service that offers end-to-end encryption as a backup in case attackers gain access to your machines or network. That way you can rest easy knowing that your sensitive business data is safe from prying eyes.