Research Exposes Vendor-Specific VOIP Vulnerabilities

VOIPshield's research into Cisco, Avaya and Nortel IP PBXes reveals 144 major vulnerabilities.

VOIPshield Systems on April 2 will seek to set itself apart among voice-over-IP security providers when it launches what officials claim is the first database of vulnerabilities specific to the IP PBXes of market leaders Cisco Systems, Avaya and Nortel Networks.

"This is the first time a research lab will spell out what some of these vulnerabilities are," said Rick Dalmazzi, CEO of the 3-year-old company. "We will announce them under the terms of our responsible disclosure policy. We first talked to the vendors and disclosed these, and we work with them and give any help they would like."

"What's different about VOIPshield is their focus on [IP] telephony systems most commonly deployed at large enterprises in North America," said Lawrence Orans, research director of security and risk management at market research company Gartner. "Much of the focus with VOIP security to date is on [SIP (Session Initiation Protocols)], but when people roll out IP telephony today they are using proprietary signaling protocols that come with these PBXes," he said.

VOIPshield through the two-year course of its research on the leading IP PBX systems found 144 different vulnerabilities across all three vendors' products, the company said.

The 144 vulnerabilities are in four different categories of exploits, including denial of service, which can affect the quality of phone calls and bring a PBX down. In the second category, unauthorized access, hackers gain unauthorized control over a PBX's resources or services.

The third category, information harvesting, enables hackers to steal corporate secrets or customer data. The fourth category, code execution, is when hackers "plant a command or a piece of code into the system" that when executed compromises the PBX, Dalmazzi said.

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The database, which gives just enough detail to let people know the vulnerabilities exist so they can be addressed, ranks each category for each vendor as critical, high, moderate or low based on the severity of the security threat the vulnerability presents for the vendor's VOIP system. It covers three Avaya, four Cisco and five Nortel vulnerability groups that reflect 80 specific vulnerabilities, according to VOIPshield.

Along with the database, VOIPshield will also introduce its new VOIPguard VOIP intrusion prevention system. It is intended to help customers thwart those known attacks as well as zero-day attacks and help ensure compliance with government regulations.

VOIPshield said it hopes with its new VoIPGuard to establish a new category of IPS-the VOIP IPS. "This is different enough from traditional IPS products that we want to define a new category. We've had Network IPS, Host IPS. This is VIPS," Dalmazzi said.

VOIPguard is designed to be installed as close to the IP PBX as possible, rather than as a perimeter security mechanism. The idea is to help protect it from internal as well as external attacks.

There have been few VOIP-specific attacks that have been made public, especially in the enterprise. Although VOIP has been in use for some time, there are several reasons for the relative scarcity of attacks.

"The business model for hacking for profit on the VOIP side hasn't come together yet. There isn't a critical mass of VOIP systems. The hacking community isn't there yet. And we don't have regulatory compliance forcing these things to be made public. Our view is it's just a matter of time," said Dalmazzi, who said he hopes the launch of the database will serve as a "wake-up call."