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FBI Protests VOIP Approach

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
1/9/2004
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This one should provide conspiracy theorists with some good fodder: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the FBI are in the early stages of a clash on VOIP regulation.

The FCC has made its position clear, indicating that it would like to avoid over-regulating the VOIP industry where possible. The FBI however, has other ideas. According to a submission to the FCC, it would like to see VOIP classed as a telecommunications service and regulated as such, no question about it (see FCC's Powell: Let VOIP Be).

The FBI voiced its position in comments filed jointly with the Justice Department to the FCC. At its VOIP Forum last month, the FCC invited anyone with an interest in VOIP to submit comments and suggestions on how VOIP services might be regulated. The FCC has received over 60 separate submissions from corporations, government agencies, and individuals commenting on its highly anticipated VOIP Order. For a complete list of the submissions click here.

There are many reasons why the feds are concerned about VOIP, but most of all they want to retain the ability to tap phone conversations in investigations. Internet-based phone calls can be encrypted, making them much harder to be tapped than traditional circuit-switched calls.

The Justice Department and the FBI are concerned that VOIP services are being used by criminals and terrorists as a secure form of communications. Traditional telephone companies must adhere to the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) by making their networks wiretap friendly. But since VOIP providers exist in a regulatory gray area, CALEA does not, so far, apply to these services. The FBI is actively lobbying the FCC to make this happen.

The Justice Department and FBI submission states: “As a matter of public policy, CALEA is vital to national security, law enforcement, and public safety. Such a critically important statute should not be left to mere voluntary efforts.”

The document continues: “VOIP providers may unintentionally benefit from half-hearted CALEA implementation because terrorists, spies, and criminals typically flock to the modes of communication most likely to evade lawful electronic surveillance. Therefore, the Commission must adopt VOIP-specific CALEA rules that are rigorous enough to ensure that this does not occur.”

The FCC says it takes all submissions seriously and will review what the Justice Department has to say. “Obviously, when we are dealing with national security issues they will be studied for their implications,” says Michael Balmoris, an FCC spokesman.

The FBI isn’t stopping at the FCC. It’s also working closely with hardware manufacturers to make their products surveillance friendly. MetaSwitch and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) have developed backdoor technology in their VOIP products that enables the FBI to eavesdrop at will.

CALEA regulation for VOIP is just around the corner, reckons Andy Randall, general manager at Metaswitch. “As soon as they find a criminal using one of these networks to evade existing CALEA rules that’s all the ammo they need," he says.

Jim Harper, founder of Privacilla.org, a privacy advocacy Website says that’s not what is happening. “The law enforcement cart is coming before the civil society horse. The communications infrastructure is being created with eavesdropping in mind before there is any evidence of it, plus with VOIP it won’t work anyway as the criminals will use offshore VOIP or open source VOIP, rather than Vonage or any of the major carriers.”

That said, the Justice Department is one of the best lobbying organizations in country and agencies like the FCC will take them very seriously, Harper says.

The latest Light Reading Insider takes a look at the FCC VOIP Order among other issues, and indicates that firm decisions won't be coming any time soon. “Insiders argue that the issue is too complex for resolution in 2004 and that the FCC historically doesn’t undertake major policy initiatives in a presidential election year,” the report says. For a closer look on the FCC regulatory environment in 2004 click here.

— Jo Maitland, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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sevenbrooks
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sevenbrooks,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 2:43:31 AM
re: FBI Protests VOIP Approach

There are two inacuracies in the story.

First regarding VoIP and CALEA, there is a form of CALEA called Packet CALEA that is in fact required to be supported. The date for required support keeps moving, but the latest is this month. The issue is there is no effective mechanism to support it.

Which leads to the second inaccuracy.

The privacy advocate misunderstands how CALEA works in the TDM network. The tap is placed at the first switching point for the Access Line. This today is the Class 5 switch. If one is going to make VoIP CALEA work it must be tapped at the edge of the Access Line. This could be done in places like a DSLAM or BRAS but would have to occur before the voice hits the Internet. This is one of the issues with Packet CALEA is that (essentially) all facilities would have to be watchable so that a line carrying VoIP did not bypass a local CALEA access point.

seven
sevenbrooks
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sevenbrooks,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 2:43:30 AM
re: FBI Protests VOIP Approach

From the FCC website. There are whole areas on CALEA.


THE WIRELINE COMPETITION AND WIRELESS TELECOMMUNICATIONS
BUREAUS ANNOUNCE A REVISED SCHEDULE FOR CONSIDERATION OF PENDING PACKET MODE CALEA SECTION 107(C) PETITIONS AND RELATED ISSUES

CC Docket No. 97-213


In this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) and Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) extend, until January 30, 2004 unless superseded by a final determination on the merits of individual petitions, the current November 19, 2003 preliminary extension granted to wireline and wireless carriers who filed for extensions of packet-mode surveillance capability requirements imposed pursuant to section 103 of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), 47 U.S.C. -º 1002.

seven
beltway_light
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beltway_light,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 2:43:15 AM
re: FBI Protests VOIP Approach
>Which leads to the second inaccuracy.
>
>The privacy advocate misunderstands how CALEA
>works in the TDM network. The tap is placed at
>the first switching point for the Access Line.
>This today is the Class 5 switch. If one is going
>to make VoIP CALEA work it must be tapped at the
>edge of the Access Line. This could be done in
>places like a DSLAM or BRAS but would have to
>occur before the voice hits the Internet.

anyone concerns about communication security
will not trust a provider to do the encryption
for their data. this includes smart criminals.
not to mention its not scalable for providers
to offer encryption for huge number of data
stream.

>This is one of the issues with Packet CALEA is
>that (essentially) all facilities would have to
>be watchable so that a line carrying VoIP did
>not bypass a local CALEA access point.
BobbyMax
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BobbyMax,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 2:43:11 AM
re: FBI Protests VOIP Approach
FBI never submitted its request to the voip vendors. FBI will probably ask for the whole world making it harder for the vendors to comply. FBI should also pay for the cost development related to its demand.
alchemy
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alchemy,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 2:43:09 AM
re: FBI Protests VOIP Approach
BobbyMax claims:
FBI never submitted its request to the voip vendors. FBI will probably ask for the whole world making it harder for the vendors to comply. FBI should also pay for the cost development related to its demand.

That's not the way it works. The government mandates to the service providers that a CALEA function that complies to J-STD-025 be available. The service providers pay stiff fines if they don't comply by a certain date. The service providers then demand the function from the vendors. The FBI will test a vendor CALEA implementation for conformace at no charge but it's wishful thinking to think that the FBI is going to pay the vendors anything for the feature.
alchemy
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alchemy,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 2:43:09 AM
re: FBI Protests VOIP Approach
beltway_light writes:
anyone concerns about communication security
will not trust a provider to do the encryption
for their data. this includes smart criminals.
not to mention its not scalable for providers
to offer encryption for huge number of data
stream.


Gee. I use my credit card over SSL all the time. 128-bit encryption is a wonderful thing.

Encryption scales just fine. You can buy bump-in-the-wire security processors from companies like Corrent and Hifn that do wirespeed OC-48. They're intended for VPN so the low data rates of voice streams are a piece of cake.

The MSOs provide their CALEA function in PacketCable by putting multicast at the CMTS and the Media Gateway. It works wonderfully as long as all the access elements in the network cooperate. It falls down if you try to incorporate, say, SIP trunking to a service provider like Sprint or Level3 where the service provider doesn't cooperate in the lawful intercept scheme. You also can't wire tap calls between two lines on the same MTA since the voice stream is routed locally inside the MTA.

In the MSO case, voice streams are double-encrypted. Between the cable modem and the CMTS, it's encrypted at the MAC laer with BPI+ if the MSO turns on the feature. The voice streams are encrypted with 128-bit AES. Signaling is encripted with IPSec 128-bit 3DES. You'd need a Cray in your home workshop to break this stuff.
sevenbrooks
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50%
sevenbrooks,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 2:43:07 AM
re: FBI Protests VOIP Approach
Agreed Alchemy.

Especially since the TDM vendors had to fund their own CALEA development.

seven
nbwaite
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50%
nbwaite,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 2:43:01 AM
re: FBI Protests VOIP Approach
Tough to believe that there is much hope for the FBI's goals. Indeed, it is the FBI's own statement that implies that their appeal to the FCC is pointless. With high irony, we have the FBI's own:
"terrorists, spies, and criminals typically flock to the modes of communication most likely to evade lawful electronic surveillance."
Okay, for "most likely", that will not be VoIP as considered or possibly regulated by the FCC.

Why?

Sure: The bad guys need only get two PCs, both with sound cards, headphones, and microphones, Internet connections, and some software that can do I/O with a sound card and with TCP/IP; finally the TCP/IP communications just needs SSL or some other form of strong encryption readily available in source code from PGP, Schneier, etc.

Computers, the Internet, strong encryption algorithms, and software combine to mean that secure communications for anyone that wants it is already a genie out of the bottle or, in terms the FBI might better understand, toothpaste out of the tube.

Now it is true that at least at times President Bush strongly believes that "intention and ability" are the same as doing. So, for ability, I won't say that I do, but I don't let it get around that I don't! For intention, no way!

Gee, the FBI will get more people to study Fermat's little theorem!
sevenbrooks
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50%
sevenbrooks,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 2:42:36 AM
re: FBI Protests VOIP Approach

That would describe your note all right.

The FBI is saying:

1 - We can wiretap in the TDM world
2 - If we can not tap in the packet world then bad guys will move to it.

Pretty straightforward.

seven
materialgirl
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materialgirl,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 2:42:30 AM
re: FBI Protests VOIP Approach
If we want to be SECURE, perhaps we can just turn off all telephones, and the Internet as well. Then the BAD GUYS can't talk!

These morons in the current administration have already spent us into the planet's largest deficit, and now they want to spend more. On what? Our children will spend their lives paying off the current debt. But they do not want to stop there. When do WE just stay STOP IT?

I just want to travel on a plane without getting harassed, keep my job, and not spend 50% of my income supporing these guys fanticies.
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