Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has quickly become the new norm for business telephone systems. It's faster, clearer, and more comprehensive for companies of all sizes to conduct business over the phone than landline systems. But is VoIP secure?
Given the increasing presence of cybercrime around the world – and the valuable information often discussed and exchanged during business calls – the importance of security has never been more significant. Phone hacking, malware, and AI-assisted keystroke detection are just some of the online security threats that target vulnerable loopholes in VoIP systems in 2023.
Your business telephone system doesn't have to be a source of stress from a security standpoint, however – some providers are more secure than others. Understanding the importance of VoIP security and taking steps to get set up with a secure VoIP provider is the best way to ensure you're safe, and we're going to walk you through the details. In this guide:
How Secure Is VoIP?
Compared to landline phones, VoIP phone systems offer a lot of benefits, from affordability to improved functionality and flexibility. Unfortunately, like almost all technology that connects to the internet in some way, VoIP systems can be hacked.
How secure your VoIP system depends siginficiantly on how secure your company's IT and internet infrastructure is.
Following the best practices that we mention below, you can greatly reduce the chance your VoIP system is hacked. Even basic measures like exclusively using encrypted WiFi networks can decrease your chances of getting hacked substantially. However, picking a VoIP provider that implements best-in-class encryption measures also matters.
If you follow these steps, you can make your VoIP system as secure as a landline system. Avoiding common pitfalls of online security will go a long way to making sure your company's data is kept private and confidential.
Last year, 83% of organizations experienced a data breach, so if you're not bolstering your company's defenses where you can, there's every chance you could fall victim to one of these attacks.
VoIP Security Threats
The best way to ensure your VoIP system stays secure is to know what might be out there. Unfortunately, a VoIP vulnerability leaves you wide open to a whole array of threats that could lead to everything from a simple nuisance to full-blown security threat.
Fortunately, knowledge is power, and we've collected some of the more credible VoIP security threats to help you understand exactly how to protect yourself in real-time. Here are a few of the most notable VoIP security threats and consequences:
- Malware – As with any system that is connected to the internet, VoIP systems are susceptible to malware attacks, as well as other viruses that could slow down or compromise your system.
- VoIP phishing – Also known as Vishing, this attack is designed to target specific phone users, duping them into believing that the call is from a reputable source through Caller ID and convincing them to provide valuable personal and company information that could lead to a security breach.
- VoIP Hacking Tools – Specific tools – like Voice Over Misconfigured Internet Protocol (VOMIT) can be used to prey on unencrypted IP phone calls.
- Denial of Service (DoS) – This attack is specifically made to disrupt phone service. It overloads the system, depriving it of important resources, which eventually leads to poor call quality, uptime, and latency.
- Eavesdropping – If your VoIP system is set up on an unencrypted WiFi network, you could have nefarious actors listening in on conversations with ease. This could lead to a serious security breach, particularly if you are talking about sensitive information with team members.
- Robocalls – Certainly more of a nuisance than a serious threat, but voicemail allows for pretty much anyone to leave a message, including robocalls and other spammers that are trying to get you to respond to an annoying and futile request.
There are other security threats with VoIP emerging all the time, and the stakes are even higher. A July 2023 study showed that AI tools can recognize the identity of the specific keys users type on VoIP calls with over 95% accuracy. That means that if a hacker is able to break into a call and eavesdrop on it, then they may be able to extract sensitive information that's not even spoken about and continue their attack on your business.
Some VoIP companies are using AI to their advantage, however. For example, DialPad released DialPadGPT in August 2023, which helps with recaps and summaries, live call coaching, and can track script adherence throughout sales cause. It's crucial that you keep up to date with the ways AI is being utilized for security purposes, as new use cases are appearing all the time.
To make sure your business is protected, check out our 12 essential cyber security measures.
The Importance of VoIP Security
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, how important is VoIP security really? Even if you've never fallen victim yourself, the reality is that the threat of security breaches via a phone system is pretty serious.
In fact, 62% of businesses in 2018 experienced social engineering hacks, a type of phone scam that masquerades as a genuine call to get valuable information about a given company. Twitter was targeted in a similar attack in 2020, which saw 45 of its most prominent accounts — including Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian, and Bill Gates — promoting a cryptocurrency scam that amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Simply put, the importance of VoIP security cannot be understated. On a more specific note, because VoIP technology relies on the internet to make calls, it's inherently vulnerable to certain attacks. Given that more than 25% of Wi-Fi networks around the world are without any form on encryption, a VoIP provider that is lax on security could cause some serious problems for your business.
Oh yeah, and it gets worse. While 25% of Wi-Fi networks around the world are without encryption, the US is not on the better side of that average. If you're running a business in the US, the odds are much higher (34%-44%) that the network your using is unencrypted, which means you really need to make sure that you choose a trusted VoIP provider that follows best practices.
World map showing the percentage of unencrypted WiFi networks by country
Use a strong password and multi-factor authentication
Many VoIP phones require a password to be used, offering a simple, default password during setup. To ensure your device remains secure, you need to be sure to change that default password to a strong alternative that you won't forget and that won't be able to guess. Password best practices dictate that it should be at least 10 characters long.
If you want to take it to the next level, you might want to add some other password security measures, like expiration dates for new passwords and two-factor authentication. These extra measures may seem tedious, but the reality is that they greatly increase security, and make it nearly impossible for hackers to gain access if employed consistently and correctly.
In the summer of 2023, VoIP provider 8×8 altered a feature that allows system admins to configure the MFA challenge frequency for all users. Although it's a bit of a pain, the more you make your team reverify, the safer your workspace will be.
Some VoIP providers, like Vonage, now offer comprehensive protection suites that will let you implement two-factor authentication across multiple channels, and include a collection of other useful fraud prevention tools.
Add your VoIP system to your firewall
Like other devices and systems contained within your company's IT infrastructure, your VoIP system should be shielded behind your corporate firewall. Although VoIP systems have a lot of security features in 2023, they won't cover all the ground, and you'll have to take some responsibility for securing it within your existing perimeter.
If you add your VoIP system to your firewall, you'll be able to monitor for – as well as block – suspicious and unauthorized activity on your network.
Update your system regularly
It may seem like a hassle, but when it comes to online security, updating your software on a consistent basis can go along way to protecting your devices. This is especially true for VoIP phone systems, as providers consistently experience attempted breaches that can only be closed with swift and effective software updates.
This means that you need to actually pay attention to these pesky notifications that want you to update your phone system (yes, even if it requires a restart right in the middle of a business workday). It might even behoove you to assign this task to a security person in the company, so you can be sure all the devices at your business are regularly updated, as one un-updated device could ruin it for the bunch.
Monitor your call logs
Another surefire way to make sure your VoIP system is secure is to actually keep an eye on it. Most VPN providers will allow you to take a look at call logs, giving you a clear breakdown of who is calling where and how often, allowing you to monitor for any suspicious behavior that could lead to a security breach.
So, what are you keeping an eye out for? Anything that looks inconsistent with your business practices could be a security threat. Strange numbers, odd hours, and anything that seems out of the ordinary will be a dead giveaway that there is some kind of vulnerability in your system, allowing you to quickly discover the problem and, more important, fix it as soon as possible.
Require remote employees to use a VPN
In an era when remote work is becoming more and more popular, the importance of security cannot be understated. Employees working from home can open up a whole array of security vulnerabilities, particularly if you have them logging into the company phone system from a smartphone or connected phone system at their home.
To avoid any security pitfalls, make sure your team is required to use a VPN for all at-home usage. This will protect their internet activity from external sources, including phone calls on a VoIP system, so there is no risk of an unsecured WiFi network creating problems for your business.
Check out our in-depth business VPN guide for more info
Educate your team
As a business owner or security manager, understanding all these VoIP security best practices is obviously important, but not nearly as important as relaying them to your team. In fact, all the knowledge in the world won't help you unless you pass it on, which is why educating your team about security best practices, for VoIP or otherwise, is an integral aspect of running a successful, breach-free company.
From strict requirement for devices to active learning opportunities in the office, security needs to be made a priority for everyone if you want to have any hope of keeping your phone system secure. Because again, a single weak link the chain can open the door for your entire team to get hacked.
Is VoIP More Secure Than Landline?
Landline phones aren't connected to the internet and don't rely on it in order to function, which leads some people to believe they're a bit more secure than VoIP phones. Conventional wisdom suggests that it would be easier for a hacker to manipulate or store digital data being transferred during VoIP calls than the data transmitted between landline phones.
However, it's entirely possible for a landline phone system to be hacked – a process that you may have heard of before referred to as “wiretapping”. This is one of the risks of having a confidential conversation over a publicly switched telephone network (PTSN). Landlines are by no means infallible.
Although it may be easier to eavesdrop on a VoIP call than wiretapping a landline, protecting VoIP phones is significantly easier, as well as cheaper, than protecting the average landline phone network. For example, you can end-to-end encrypt VoIP calls on a lot of platforms, including RingCentral and Zoom, usually for relatively little cost.
If you configure your VoIP system with the appropriate security measures, you can make it just as secure as a landline, if not more secure. If you're considering the switch between the two types of phone systems, be sure to find out more about the differences between VoIP and Landline phones.
How to Choose a Secure VoIP Provider
Now that you understand how important VoIP security is and how to follow best practices, you need to know which providers are actually looking out for your protection. Fortunately, there are three key elements that can help you know for sure whether or not you've found a secure VoIP provider: encryption, support, and compliance accreditation.
To avoid getting too complicated, encryption is essentially the process of making internet data more secure. In the same way an unencrypted Wi-Fi network can compromise your security, providers that don't offer call encryption will leave you open to a wide range of potential breaches, which just won't do.
More specifically, you want to make sure your VoIP provider is offering Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Real-time Transport Protocol (SRTP), the two most common and necessary protocols for VoIP technology.
Not all VoIP providers offer the same levels of encryption. For example, RingCentral, one of the most popular and feature-rich business telephone systems currently available, only added end-to-end encryption for its phone and messaging communications at the end of last year.
Prior to that, RingCentral only offered this level of security for video chatting. Other companies, like Zoom, also added end-to-end encryption to their VoIP phone offerings in 2022. This is becoming more and more common as VoIP providers look to assure businesses operating in the face of an increasing number of threats.
All technology has a hiccup here and there, and VoIP phone systems are no different. You're always going to want to be sure that you have an expert backing you up in these situations, which means that understanding your support options from provider to provider is vital.
From sporadic hours and live chat to 24/7 phone support, providers truly run the gamut as far as what you can expect from a customer service standpoint. Make sure the provider you opt for is ready and available to field your support request, as it could be the difference between secure data and a security breach.
Because concerns about data security are so prevalent in the world today, there are plenty of regulations out there designed to keep people safe. Unfortunately, not all providers follow these regulations, shirking their responsibility to be compliant with specific measures. Be sure to check which accreditations your provider has before signing off. Some important ones include:
- HIPAA Compliance – This specific relates to health care providers securing patient data in a way that fully and completely protects anything from being stolen.
- PCI Compliance – This accreditation insists that, if your business accepts credit card payment, you must comply with much strict rules about how secure your system is.
- SOC 2 Compliance -This is a vaguer compliance, which ensures that consumer data is protected to a certain extent. It's considered the minimum standard for businesses dealing with consumer data.
As you can imagine, the more compliant with these and other measures, the better your provider will be with security, which makes it a decidedly important aspect to watch out for when making a decision.
The most secure VoIP solution we've found is Google Voice. While all the top VoIP providers use multiple security methods, Google Voices hits it out of the park when it comes to these, adding every known protection and scoring 5/5, a higher score than competitors such as Vonage, 8×8 and RingCentral.
Of course, beyond features and compliance accreditations, there are some steps you and your business should be taking to ensure that your VoIP provider is actually secure. These include:
Vendor due diligence: Before you choose a VoIP provider, you should draw up a list of security-focused questions for them to answer, and request an audit report as well as any other relevant security documentation. This should then be reviewed by your IT team or a third-party consultant.
Evaluating your VoIP system: Once you've installed your VoIP system, it's no good just leaving it to do its job – you'll need to test and evaluate all the security configurations you've set up to ensure they function correctly. You should be doing this with all of the software you're deploying that provides some sort of security benefit to your business, including your company's VPN and firewall.
Safety in synergy: It's highly unlikely that your VoIP system is the only internet-connected system that you're using, which means it's not the only way you can be hacked. Even if your VoIP system is secure, poor overall security infrastructure will render it vulnerable. Ensuring that your firewall or business VPN is working in harmony with your VoIP system is just as important as securing the VoIP system itself.
Getting Started with a Secure VoIP Phone System
Now, if all this talk about security breaches hasn't scared you off, getting started with a VoIP phone system shouldn't be too hard at all. Tech.co has done extensive research to identify the best VoIP phone providers, and you can compare prices for your business with just the click of a button. Simply take advantage of our handy comparison tool, to receive tailored, accurate pricing for your business, without breaking a sweat.
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