VoiceCon: Government voice, data are converging

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Despite continuing security concerns, the federal government is moving faster than the private sector into voice over IP technology, a security expert said yesterday at the VoiceCon 2003 conference in Washington.

Joel A. Pogar, national information security practice manager for Siemens Information Communications Network Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., said that 'two things are driving the convergence: rapid network deployment and simplified encryption.' Pogar, who was snowed out of Washington, spoke at the enterprise voice communications conference via telephone from Phoenix.

Kevin McMenamy, technical marketing engineer for Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., said Cisco has sold more than a million VOIP telephone desksets. Although putting voice on a data network brings together all the security risks of both types, he said 'proper use of existing IP security' is effective against VOIP security threats.

But firewalls do not handle packetized voice efficiently, Pogar said. 'They were not designed to handle the real-time traffic' of telephone communications, he said. Only firewalls from Check Point Software Technologies Inc. of Redwood City, Calif., now directly support voice over IP, he said, and NetScreen Technologies Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., 'is right on the edge of being able to support it natively.'

Firewalls that effectively handle packetized voice will not be available until late this year, Pogar said, and intrusion detection systems that do not classify voice traffic as a potential attack probably won't be around for another year.

Despite shortcomings in current technology, 'I don't think it's worth waiting' for the next VOIP products, he said. The increased productivity, mobility and cost savings are worthwhile if proper attention is paid to security.

Military applications are a driver for adoption of voice over IP, he said, because voice networks can be deployed faster to the field and to mobile users. The possibility of better encryption also is attractive, Pogar said. Current equipment such as the Secure Telephone Unit III is bulky and expensive.

Although voice over IP does not yet support end-to-end encryption, 'we are working on the ability to encrypt end-point to end-point without the added equipment' now needed to secure voice traffic, Pogar said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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