Internet-Connected Phones: Gold Standard In Security, Reliability?

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Look for Internet-based telephones to become the secure and reliable "standard," according to one credit union here.

"I can't envision a time and place where VoIP won't be the standard," said Mark Mathews, vice president, Information Technology, at Summit Credit Union, which has used Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) circuits and handsets across its 11 branches for nearly five years.

VoIP systems have replaced analog audio signals and telephones in many credit unions over the past decade. Internet telephony is in place in some shape or form at nearly 40% of the 60 credit unions that responded to Callahan and Associates' 2006 Technology Survey on VoIP.

Nearly 25% more said that Internet-enabled systems are in the works, according to the Callahan survey.

Larger credit unions stand to see big savings and functionality from Internet-enabled phone systems, and for smaller CUs, VoIP may be the answer when analog equipment deteriorates or when the CU moves to a different physical location, Mathews said.

"The concerns over quality and stability have been shored up, provided the system has been configured correctly, and VoIP offers better integration with other applications than analog," Mathews added.

"And on top of the cost savings, the fact that VoIP is just another part of the network has made it easy for network technicians to maintain and support," he said.

Furthermore, though critics question the lack of interoperability between vendors, VoIP security is strong, said Mathews, whose background is telecommunications.

The $675-million CU works with two VoIP vendors that have applied complementary security standards, making interoperability a "non-issue," he said.

In fact, Internet telecom can be just as secure as analog, asserted Ray Carsey, vice president of technology, at $1.8-billion Mountain America CU (MACU) in West Jordan, Utah.

'No Security Issues'

"There are no security issues that I know of," Carsey said. "In fact, I have more confidence with voice security than with Internet security."

MACU's corporate headquarters, call center, one-third of all branches, and some remote employees have run on a fully IP-enabled phone system for two years-but the CU has used some form of VoIP since 2000, said Carsey.

In addition, voice data are easily separated from other network data and thus are easily controlled, Carsey continued. "We have set up different tunneling methods to ensure that Internet traffic and hackers can't get into the voice data."

At Summit CU, VoIP traffic stays within the credit union's internal private network, harbored from external network threats, said Mathews. Remote employees do not yet use VoIP connections, he said.

Despite the segmentation from external network traffic, voice traffic should still be scanned for viruses and anomalies, he continued.

In addition, security configurations should be addressed with the VoIP vendor during installation, Carsey said.

"Ask the vendor how voice traffic is segmented from network traffic, and what's in place to alleviate man-in-the-middle attacks," he said.

CUJ RESOURCES

For info on this story:

* Mountain America CU at www.macu.com

* Summit CU at www.summitcreditunion.com

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