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Cisco tightens security on voice products

Cisco Systems announces an upgrade to its CallManager software to improve security on its Internet Protocol telephony gear.

Cisco Systems has improved security on its Internet Protocol telephony products.

On Monday, the company announced that it has added new privacy features to its CallManager product, which maps phone numbers to IP addresses and keeps track of phone calls. Specifically, CallManager 4.1 extends encryption support to include its new and already installed 7940G and 7960G IP phones. Cisco also enhanced support for a protocol that will help customers link their existing telephone systems to its IP telephony products.

Security is a significant issue with any IP application. Like other packet-based applications, voice networks can suffer from denial-of-service attacks, which are caused when a hacker floods a network with packets until the switches and routers directing traffic throughout the network are frozen. Hackers also could tap into IP telephony calls to eavesdrop on conversations or break into corporate voice mails.

As a result, some companies have hesitated in replacing their existing phone networks with one based on IP. Cisco hopes that the new enhancements to CallManager can ease security concerns. By encrypting the voice traffic starting from the actual telephones, Cisco can help ensure that conversations are kept private and that no one is able to tamper with telephone signaling packets.

Previously, Cisco only offered encryption on its high-end phones. Now the company is extending support to include its less expensive phones, too. Customers will be able to take advantage of the new encryption features through a free software upgrade.

In addition, Cisco enhanced its Cisco Unity unified messaging product to provide better security to voice mail messages. The company also extended the interoperability of a protocol called Q.SIG, which is used to communicate between private branch exchanges from different vendors. The enhancement should help Cisco customers connect more securely between their new IP telephony network and their existing telephone infrastructure.

IP telephony is an important emerging market for Cisco. The company recently announced several new customer wins, including one with Boeing and another with Bank of America.

The software upgrades are available now. Cisco CallManager 4.1 software with a Cisco Media Convergence Server starts at $5,995. Customers can upgrade their CallManager 4.0 software to the new version free of charge. The secure voice-messaging feature in Cisco Unity 4.04 comes at no additional cost and can be upgraded on existing products for free.