Avaya makes security standard

Avaya Inc. is moving away from a proprietary security protocol to a standards-based solution for its new IP telephony software, Communications Manager 2.0. It’s a move that could make all the difference to security-conscious companies, says one industry observer.

Voice and data transmissions are vulnerable these days, said Tracy Fleming, a convergence specialist at Avaya Canada in Markham, Ont. He pointed to a shareware program called Voice-Over Mis-Configured Internet Telephone (VOMIT) as a potential problem. This software gives hackers the power to traverse networks and record packets.

To help combat hacker tools like VOMIT, Avaya has introduced the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) into its new line of communication software. Fleming said the standards-based encryption mechanisms are significantly stronger then the proprietary-based protocols that the company used previously.

Avaya’s security solution encrypts information at the phone set, Fleming said, adding that the solution does not require additional hardware.

“There is no more cost or complexity,” he said. “Most importantly we are managing the encryption within the local area network, which is where we are seeing a tremendous amount of the security issues.”

Roberta Fox, president and senior partner of Markham, Ont.-based Fox Group Consulting, said it’s smart for Avaya to add standards-based security to its software, but it won’t make a difference if the client doesn’t care about protection.

“There are some companies that care about it and there are others that just cross their fingers,” Fox said.

Although not all companies will jump on the solution, Fox said she is encouraged that vendors like Avaya are using standard, rather than proprietary solutions. A standard solution “makes things much easier” because the protocol is published and validated, “whereas, if it’s proprietary, most of the time each company has to learn how to do it. The published standards also have guidelines of how to install and configure.”

As well as the AES solution, Avaya has introduced a line of additional IP telephony products, many of which have been revamped to serve markets like Canada, “a country of branch offices,” according to Fox.

Fleming said Avaya’s G350 Media Gateway is ideal for branch offices. It’s designed to sit at the branch and tie into the PBX at headquarters, thus enabling four-digit dialing between the main office and its appendage.

Fleming said it’s a step forward for many a Canadian company. Usually businesses in this country have individual phone systems at each of their branch locations. Often these systems are not connected to each other, making for inefficient communication.

“If I’m in the Ottawa office and I want to call someone in corporate…I’m going to make a 10-digit dial,” Fleming said.

Fox said that scaling down this sophisticated technology to fit smaller branch offices is a smart move, especially in a country of smaller offices like Canada.

“It also means…you can have distributed redundancies,” she said. “So, if you lose the link you don’t lose your ACD (automatic call distributor) and your voice server….If you lose your voice server, you don’t have a business.”

The new gateway goes beyond four-digit dialing, Fleming said. It also delivers an extension-to-cellular feature, which effectively turns employees’ cell phones into PBX end-points.

Some of Avaya’s lates enhancements make sense to Kam Mohammed, manager of information technology at Totten Sims Associates Ltd. (TSH) in Whitby, Ont. This engineering firm uses Avaya’s Definity Communications System to hook together its north and south offices.

Since TSH uses private lines between its two bureaus, Mohammed said he isn’t overly concerned about security risks. The consulting firm does, however, plan to expand across Ontario and hook those branches together across the Internet. At that time, Mohammed said, TSH will consider a solution like the one offered by Avaya.

Mohammed noted that it’s beneficial for TSH to have a single communications infrastructure. He added that he has become frustrated with the company’s current telephony solutions and has found himself explaining the benefits of IP telephony to his board of directors.

“I can’t understand why I have to hit nine on my keypad, dial a long-distance telephone number and talk to a receptionist to get my counterpart in Waterloo. I don’t understand that. To me [it] doesn’t make sense,” Mohammed explained.

“I want the ability to be able to punch in a four-digit number and have that person answer the phone on the other end.”

When TSH does implement telephony security, it will seek out a system that uses standard security protocols, which tend to be more stable than some propreitary solutions.

“You have a company that is in the market right now that pulls out some security solution and tomorrow they could be sold off to another company; all of a sudden they have dropped that line and then you’re stuck,” Mohammed said. “I want to make sure that whatever we do is standardized throughout the industry.”

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