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Networking

Alliance wants to beat spam to Net phones

Group says VoIP needs protection from virus writers and telemarketers--before the attacks start.

Nearly two dozen companies say they have allied to address spam and security risks of Internet telephones, even though there's little evidence suggesting any threat.

The providers of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), as Net phone services are generally known, are bracing for abuses nonetheless because, like e-mail, VoIP calls find their way by locating an IP address, a unique set of numbers assigned to each device connected to the Web. Using VoIP, virus writers could conceivably commandeer someone's phone, or elemarketers could send messages to thousands more phones at a time than they can now.

With little evidence to suggest a problem, however, the 22 member companies of the VoIP Security Alliance run the risk of provoking the digital world's black hats.

But the outlaws' attention is inevitable, alliance members say, because VoIP technology is teetering on the mainstream, becoming an increasingly interesting target. There are about 5 million customers worldwide, with almost a third in the United States, where Vonage, with 500,000 customers, is the world's largest VoIP supplier. VoIP services have begun winning converts, thanks to cheap rates and a slew of features that traditional phone companies can't match.

The alliance includes business telephone maker Alcatel, network security specialists Symantec and several schools, including New York's Columbia University, and the 20 other companies. The alliance was formally unveiled Monday.

"The technology has finally arrived, and vulnerabilities need to be discovered and mitigated," Ron Gula, chief technology officer of alliance member Tenable Network Security, said in prepared remarks.