Covergence Banks on SIP Risks
With new session initiation protocol (SIP) applications like VOIP, instant messaging, and audio/video conferencing taking root at service providers, the operators need a way to secure and provide quality of service (QOS) for those applications, according to the startup, which was founded in 2003 and has raised $16 million in venture funding. Covergence is set to introduce a carrier-grade security and management solution (see Tekelec Reports Q2, Buys SIP Vendor). The product will serve as an early response system for SIP threats like hacking, spying, eavesdropping, spamming, hijacking, viruses, and denial-of-service attacks.
While Covergence isn’t letting go of many details prior to the launch, Light Reading has learned that the product consists of a series of network appliances that report SIP security and service availability problems to a central monitoring and control point (see Cisco IOS Hole Points to VOIP Threat).
The company and its VC backers believe many service providers and Fortune 2000 companies have bought into the SIP concept, but didn’t anticipate the new risk exposure. One investor says that as the SIP boom takes hold, security may have been overlooked.
"As SIP has become the de facto for messaging and other real-time applications, it has opened up a bunch of quality assurance, security, and administration issues,” says Sean Dalton, a partner at Highland Capital Partners, an investor in Covergence. “For companies that are just starting to implement IP, the issues of security and management just kind of go right over them... and then they call back six months later and say, ‘Now I get it.' "
SIP apps work differently than circuit-switched ones, explains Heavy Reading analyst at large Tim Hills. SIP uses in-band signaling, meaning that the signaling messages that control the system are transported by the same mechanism (IP packets) that transports the service media (like the voice channel for VOIP), Hills says in a recent Heavy Reading report (see SIP Guide).
The separation between signaling and media streams is logical, Hills says, not physical. This makes for an open architecture -- high on flexibility, but not inherently secure.
As such, Covergence's VP of marketing Rod Hodgman says, managing the risk isn’t easy. “It’s a hard road; you’ve got to look at interoperability, quality assurance, high availability, and confidentiality,” he says. “You’ve got internally launched virus attacks and even alleged attempts at corporate espionage." And all that, he notes, can happen behind the firewall.
Hodgman says attacks against SIP applications are not widespread today but will increase as the protocol becomes more established. For example, Hodgman says Microsoft Corp.'s (Nasdaq: MSFT) new, SIP-based Live Communications Server, is “extremely attractive” to Fortune 2000 companies, but security issues are hindering deployments.
“There are those that I know are sitting in the labs and trying to figure out how to deploy the solution,” Hodgman says. “What’s preventing that is the security and compliance officer." (See Microsoft Intros FMC Solution.) Asked if Covergence is in discussions to partner with Microsoft on the product, Hodgman pleads the Fifth.
So if this SIP security thing is such a glaring problem, new companies must be lining up to provide the fix for it, right?
“I suspect there are a lot of smaller companies flying under the radar right now -- Borderware has a product," Hodgman says. ’s product, SIPassure, is billed as a "SIP firewall." Others involved in the space include Radware Ltd. (Nasdaq: RDWR) and M5T.
Covergence's funding is led by Highland Capital and North Bridge Venture Partners. The company got a $6 million first round of funding in January 2004 and a second round worth $10 million in June 2005.
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading