The telephone has come a long way in a short time. From the rotary dial to the smartphone, technology has made making and receiving calls quicker and more convenient than ever. The latest development in telephony is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
VoIP makes calls to phones or computer-based software and applications, such as Skype or Facebook, using the internet rather than standard telephone wires. While there are many benefits to this approach, there are also many dangers. For example, VoIP is much less secure than the use of a traditional telephone. Hackers, identity thieves, computer viruses and other pests are concerns that must be addressed if you wish to use VoIP safely.
Luckily, if you follow these four tips to establish a more secure VoIP connection, you can continue to access all the features of VoIP without worrying about losing your privacy.
- Know the Security Risks of the Internet
Before you use VoIP services, you should first understand the security risks associated with these online phone calls. First and most important is that the internet is an inherently unsafe place. If your VoIP traffic is unencrypted, hackers, identity thieves and other criminals can find the data you are sending out and view it as it travels to its target. They can also grab important information that will allow them access into your accounts or device.
On a traditional phone, it is possible for someone on the outside to tap in and listen to a conversation. This is just as true with VoIP, but unlike with a traditional phone call, not only can your conversation be observed, the person listening can use your outgoing traffic to hack into your VoIP server and gain control of it, accounts associated with it and the device on which it is used, which includes all the private data stored on that device.
If this occurs, the individual can also make calls using your VoIP. Now this might not sound like a big deal. Perhaps the hacker just wants to make a few prank calls. This, however, is not likely the case. The hacker is probably going to do something much worse. He may try accessing the device from which the VoIP was used and seize control of its functions, plant a virus or some sort of malware to observe your behaviour and gather your data, or use the VoIP to make calls that could cost you a great deal.
Imagine that the hacker has created a phone account in another country that charges $10 per minute for every call made. The hacker uses your phone to make a call to this number. For every minute that the phone call continues, you are going be charged more money until your bank account is wiped out.
If you wish to use VoIP, you need to understand these security risks and take precautions, such as those discussed below.
- Use Trusted Services and Devices
The VoIP is only as secure as the device on which it is used. If a device lacks any real time security protocols, such as a firewall or VPN, then using a VoIP is not wise. Before you even install this technology on any of your devices, you should ensure that you have a security package already in place that will keep the data you send and receive secure. Just remember that all vulnerabilities that already exist within your security protocols are going to be more easily exploited with a VoIP.
Beyond the device itself, however, the service that hosts the VoIP could be subject to vulnerabilities. For example, the company may record all or some phone calls made using their VoIP or collect a log of when and to whom calls were made. If there is any data collection, you should make sure you know about this before signing up. Further, if data is being collected, you need to also verify that there are sufficient protocols put into place to protect that data wherever it is being housed. Ask these questions before choosing a VoIP provider:
- Are there security vulnerabilities inherent to this VoIP service and what is the provider doing to fix them?
- What parts of my information and data are being recorded, kept and tracked during VoIP conversations?
- How is that information and data secured?
- What are security features are provided with this service and how do they compare to similar VoIP services from other providers?
These questions, of course, are only cursory, but asking them can help you to figure out which services are safe and which are not. It can help you to better compare the security vulnerabilities and features of different services and providers before investing and installing one on your device.
- Add a Tunnel of Security with a Virtual Private Network
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) will add a layer of security to your VoIP connections unmatched by most other network security systems. VPNs encrypt the data that is sent from your computer when you access the internet. By re-routing that data through a third-party server elsewhere, the location of your transmission remains anonymous, and the data you share becomes invisible. Using this with a VoIP means that you will be able to maintain security, privacy and safety without having to sacrifice the benefits of the many features VoIPs offer over traditional telephone services.
There are many VPNs on the market today, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Secure Thoughts, a website focused on computer security, has ranked ExpressVPN, IPVanish and others conveniently to help people just like you find the best VPN for your needs.
- Use a Firewall Suited to VoIP Usage
Firewalls are typically one of the most used and trusted network security systems and have been for quite some time. Unfortunately, depending on the firewall and the protocols you’ve established for it, a VoIP may not be able to connect as long as it is active. VoIPs use Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to signal, connect and terminate communications between two or more devices. SIP makes and terminates these connections very quickly. If a firewall does not permit the SIP to move through it or slows the SIP to such a level that it cannot complete the connection within the short time allotted, then you will either have to disable your firewall to use VoIP or redefine the protocols of the firewall so that they become compatible with the VoIP.
Because firewalls can offer a good deal of protection both for VoIP calls and general internet usage, it is best not to disable it. Of course, because there are many different firewalls and VoIPs on the market today, it is impossible to state exactly what protocols you will need to alter so that the VoIP and firewall will work together. Luckily, most VoIP services have a page on their website that can help you find a firewall that will work with their service and give further instructions for creating compatibility between the two services. If they do not have such a page, you contact customer service and speak with one of their representatives.
These are just a few pointers to get you started on creating a secure VoIP connection. By understanding the risks associated with using VoIPs on the public internet, using trusted services and devices, installing a VPN and collaborating your firewall so that it functions with the specific VoIP you’re using, you will be safe and protected.
Are there any other tips you would share with readers about your own VoIP usage? Please share your thoughts.
About the Author
Isa C. is a blogger and freelancer who enjoys writing about ways to use technology more efficiently and securely. Her favourite topics to cover include on-line censorship, anonymity and the need for digital freedom, thwarting identity theft, teaching children to be safe on-line, and tips for businesses to find the best and most affordable security options.