(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s amazing how cavalier we can be with secrets – or stuff that should be secret. Next time you’re on the bus or train, or even in an elevator, do a little eavesdropping on the folks holding conversations on their cellphones. Most of them are “throwaways,” but a couple will sound important – really important.
Kind of makes you curious as to what the other side is saying, too.
Many of us tend to bandy about secrets, believing that we are the only ones who know or care what we’re talking about. But there are secrets that could be very damaging to a lot of people if they got out. Not necessarily security secrets; we would expect the people in charge of those things to protect information our enemies would stop at nothing to acquire. Although sometimes those secrets get out, as well.
During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, for example, Hizbullah said it had managed to crack IDF radio signals using Iranian technology. According to media reports, Hizbullah hackers had monitored IDF radio signals and were able to penetrate communications even when the signals changed.
And there are other secrets that many of us would prefer remain secret: the kind of secrets that when they get out become the stuff the news is made of.
Political parties, organizations that treat those in mental distress, lawyers and stockbrokers all hold information that can make or break careers, families and even whole societies. Those who hold that information do their best to keep it to themselves, at least the information on their computers and servers.
But those secret-keepers have overlooked a major security hole: They may have protected their computers, but what about their cellphones? While hacking into cellphone conversations or hijacking SMS messages isn’t as common as other forms of data invasion, cellphone hacking is a useful way for someone to get “dirt” on their political enemies, or otherwise acquire information that can compromise the innocent and semi-innocent. In fact, it’s more than useful; cellphone hacking is an excellent way to get compromising information, since people are more likely to spill something in conversation that they might be a little more reticent to in writing. Loose lips sink ships, and all that.
Far from being a paranoid’s nightmare, this kind of thing goes on every
day, says Alex Argov, CEO of Israel’s Tikal Networks
(www.tikalnetworks.com). A telephony integrator, Tikal has a variety of
VoIP solutions for businesses, including its unique Cryptone system,
which uses end-to-end encryption to prevent hackers from invading
private cellphone conversations – protecting both the data and voice
parts of the conversation.
“Using our special encryption software, people on both sides of the
conversation can be assured that what they say in confidence remains
their affair,” Argov says. “Unlike other companies offering encryption
for phone calls, we don’t install our protection on a central server or
PBX, which would allow hackers to hijack the information directly from
the handset” if they had been able to install a hacking program. “Our
protection is installed on handsets on both sides of the conversation,
and the data and voice are encrypted, sent through the network and
descrambled on the other handset.”
Thus, he says, even hackers who hang around the area with scanners and
other tools designed to catch voice signals are thwarted, “because all
their equipment will be able to pick up is static.”
Developed after a request by the Italian Navy for a secure
communications system, the Tikal security system uses triple DES
encryption, about as strong as you can get, and effectively sets up a
virtual private network (VPN) between the two sides of the conversation
for even more security. Cryptone can encrypt all calls from either PSTN
phones or cellphones, Argov says, and can even encrypt video. It’s ideal
for anyone looking to keep their secrets secret. Indeed, Tikal’s Web
site lists a number of security organizations, financial firms,
political parties and social-service organizations that use Tikal
products, including Cryptone.
And while they’re getting their phone calls protected, most of the
organizations go for some of Tikal’s other products, such as the
CrystalManager, a fully featured call manager, personal-monitoring tool
and CTI for Asterisk PBX systems, or the Crystal Call Center, which
offers graphical control over call centers and other business telephony
Tikal even offers a solution for Israeli businesspeople working abroad:
the EZCall, which intercepts overseas phone calls, reroutes them to a
local IP phone number and then routes then via VoIP to their destination
abroad, thus saving companies big money on international phone calls.
The Petah Tikva-based company doesn’t just help Israelis; it has
installed systems throughout Europe, the United States, Russia and even
Africa, with its latest contract for a huge telephony project along
1.300 kilometers of train track in Zambia, stretching from Victoria
Falls to the South African border.
But it’s the security package that’s the star at Tikal – at least to
folks like us, who have definitely wondered about the security of their
It’s nice to know that at least one company is doing something to help us mind our own business!