Supreme Security Systems, the largest independent, full-service electronic security provider in New Jersey, has outlined a number of VoIP security issues and vulnerabilities that can disable or disrupt burglar/fire alarms and emergency services; these include signal distortion, power failure, line seizure and service outages. Supreme also provides recommendations for how commercial and residential clients can circumvent these risks, while still reaping the benefits of VoIP services.
David Bitton, COO of Supreme Security Systems, said, "Today, VoIP offers significant cost savings on local and international calls as well as streamlining service providers by utilizing one vendor for both networking and telecommunications. However, most users are unaware of the numerous security vulnerabilities of VoIP systems in relation to security alarms and emergency services."
Supreme Security Systems has identified the following security risks associated with VoIP systems:
- Signal Distortion -- Most alarm systems were designed to transmit alarm signals as a series of beeps and tones over analog phone lines. Because VoIP systems utilize digital communications, the conversion of the beeps and tones are not always translated correctly. This can result in an alarm signal not being recognized by its central monitoring station.
- Power Failure -- In the event of a power failure, cable modems and DSL lines will not work unless there is an on-premise power backup or generator. Losing power, can mean losing communication with the outside world. Not only will the alarm system not be able to communicate with the central station, it will not be able to dial 911 or access other emergency services.
- Line Seizure -- Alarm systems are designed with line seizure capabilities -- enabling them to take over an open phone line to communicate with the central monitoring station in case of an emergency. Often, the cable company or ISP will actually install the VoIP modem in a residence by 'back-feeding' the house circuit and disconnecting the old telephone circuit as it enters the premise.
Because the alarm control panel is configured to have the telephone circuit connected first, ahead of any telephone instruments, it can interrupt and disconnect an existing call to give the alarm signal priority.
- Service Outage -- Internet service providers and cable companies are also susceptible to service outages. The Internet is not always accessible to transmit alarm signals. Service outages, server malfunctions, and system upgrades and regular maintenance are just some of the reasons that VoIP systems may not be as reliable as analog phone systems to transmit alarm signals.
In order to combat VoIP security concerns, Supreme Security Systems recommends retaining a basic land telephone line for emergency phone requirements such as calls to 911, medical assistance providers and alarm system monitoring services. If customers prefer not to maintain a land-line in addition to their VoIP service, Supreme Security recommends a long-range radio backup service for extra protection. Radio backup service is available through Supreme and communicates directly with its central monitoring station without relying on third-party service providers.
"VoIP is proliferating at exponential rates," said Bitton. "We understand that VoIP offers numerous advantages to residential and commercial users. However, they need to be aware of how it may negatively impact their security and systems. If users are aware of these issues, they can take proactive steps to resolve them before an emergency situation strikes."