Is VoIP Safe From Surveillance Systems?

Guest Author: This week’s blog post was provided to us by Tanya Williams, a freelance writer and blogger. She has been working with telecom companies for over 20 years, writing about new technologies and how businesses and business owners can take advantage of them. Her topics included IP based communications technologies, cloud computing, website development, and many more.


Recently, there has been serious objections about government agents’ and other agencies’ spying on private calls, leaving many users are worried about their privacy. There are some doubts on whether VoIP is strong enough to guard against such eavesdropping and phone tapping. However, as technology VoIP tends to provide better security than its pervious systems. Landline communications were easily traceable, while VoIP runs protocols to safeguard information.

Safety with VoIP

Hackers know how to attack Internet-based devices and services, such as VoIP, allowing them to easily get hold of customer account data, records of conversations and voicemails. Additionally, if a user’s account details are compromised, that information can be used to charge third party services. However, it requires a high level of skill and technical knowledge in order to that.

VoIP has its own safety measures, which pose a challenge to such hackers or surveillance agents. All the traffic is routed through a firewall and network address translators (NAT). Utilizing a firewall is one of the most commonly used safety systems for protecting a device from Internet-based attacks. Translators help in interconnecting networks and creating a safe communication system. Services like Skype use proprietary protocols for protection by routing calls through other skype peers on the network. This enables it to traverse symmetric NATs and firewalls.

Encryption is one of the most powerful tools in protecting digital information, but VoIP is not using it currently. Due to this, it gets easier for spies to eavesdrop on voice calls that are made on a data network. There are solutions like Wireshirk, which help in doing that. Protocols like secure real-time transport protocols (SRTP) and ZRTP are used for securing VoIP. IPsec also help in securing point to point VoIP by encrypting all traffic.

Why is VoIP more secure than previous systems?

As we know, traditional phone systems were based on analog signals, which cannot be encrypted. VoIP uses data signals, which are digital, and can be easily encrypted for protection. When the signal is sent, the receiving device can then decrypt the packets easily as they get the respective decryption key. This decryption process is necessary if real information is required. In process transmission if this signal is traced, the hacker would have to decrypt it based the decryption key, which is possible only with the device for which signal was intended.


It is hard to tell whether our conversations will remain private or not because powerful authorities, such as the government, might implement laws that could give them the power to do surveillance. In the USA, the FBI recently announced its plan to expand Communication Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) in order to bring Internet calling, such as VoIP, under this law. This law gives them power to intercept calls. If the plan is passed, then providers will have to make the tracing easier for them, which would compromise the privacy of the user.

However, despite the possibility that VoIP may fall under CALEA, several hospitals, military organizations, and large corporations have adopted VoIP. If we see figures, almost one third of businesses in world today use VoIP. When compared with other communication systems, VoIP is still the best possible option because of it’s low cost and higher level of security when compared to traditional systems.

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