Whatever threat develops, however, an essential first step in the defence will be to ensure that IP telephony networks are correctly configured and protected. Where this is the responsibility of in-house support staff, it’s important they are properly trained and that their skills are kept up to date. Alternatively, it’s essential to ensure the service supplier’s staff are fully equipped to keep the network operating reliably and securely.
While much of the technology that underlies IP telephony may appear familiar to those who support data networks, and should benefit from the same sorts of protection, there are notable differences. For example, while those who manage data networks have traditionally seen their priority as maintaining integrity and confidentiality, those running phone systems have focused on delivering high levels of availability.
Because factors such as delay are critically important to IP telephony services, those employed to manage and support such networks will need skills above and beyond those normally required for work on data networks.
Those used to managing and operating traditional phone systems will also find the change to IP telephony challenging. Their experience is of mature technologies supplied as ‘black box’ solutions connected together using well-established interface standards and network services. In contrast, while now well beyond the early adopter phase, VoIP is still evolving, and the design and integration of IP telephony systems is more complex.
To successfully design and operate an IP telephony system, you require an in-depth understanding not only of data communications and VoIP technologies but of the interactions between them. Problems can arise, for example, when new computing applications are added to a network without confirming their ability to coexist with IP telephony systems. The resulting interference can have a dramatic impact on the system performance.
The most basic precaution is therefore to ensure that IP telephony systems and associated data networks are designed and maintained only by suitably qualified staff.
Beyond this, because the components of an IP telephony system make extensive use of computer hardware and software, they require the same sorts of protection as traditional computer installations. For example, viruses could exploit weaknesses in the underlying operating systems and in application programmes. Anti-virus solutions will therefore be required, but these must be designed so as not to introduce excessive delay as telephony packets move through the network. It is also important to keep them up to date.
Security sources should be monitored for details of new forms of attack and support staff should register to receive security alerts and software updates directly from vendors whenever these are available. Customers that hold support contracts, for example, will usually be informed of any action they should take to protect their installations.