4 key unified communications security threats to watch

4 key unified communications security threats to watch

Unified communications (UC) refers to the integration of various communication applications and channels into a single interface and user experience. This includes technologies like voice, video conferencing, instant messaging, email, voicemail, etc. UC enables users to seamlessly communicate and collaborate across multiple modalities using a common platform. 

With the many benefits of UC comes the need to ensure its security. As UC environments converge multiple channels and store more sensitive data, they also pose greater security risks if not properly protected. Some of the key threats that organizations need to safeguard their UC platforms against include phishing attacks, eavesdropping and interception, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, and insider threats. Developing security strategies to mitigate these threats is critical for protecting the availability, integrity and confidentiality of UC systems.

A. Importance of Securing UC Systems

Securing UC systems should be a top priority for any organization using them. Breaches can lead to major disruptions in communications and operations. They can also result in leaks of sensitive information, financial fraud, and compliance violations. Investing in UC security reduces these risks and helps maintain business continuity. It also protects customer and employee data as well as intellectual property. Overall, effective security preserves trust in an organization's UC environment and the critical communications it facilitates.

Some specific reasons why UC security is important include:

- Prevent communications blackouts and ensure availability of critical collaboration tools.

- Block hackers from intercepting confidential calls or messages.  

- Keep customer data like contacts, recordings, appointments private.

- Avoid leaks of sensitive documents and screens shared via UC.

- Protect intellectual property from theft and corporate espionage.

Top Unified Communications Security Threats

Unified Communications (UC) systems face various security threats. Top concerns include phishing attacks, where fraudulent communications attempt to extract sensitive data. Eavesdropping involves intercepting calls or messages to access confidential information. VoIP-based attacks exploit vulnerabilities in Voice over Internet Protocol systems. Malware targeting UC platforms can infect networks, leading to data breaches or service disruptions. Identity theft through caller ID or email spoofing poses a significant risk. Denial of Service (DoS) attacks may disrupt UC services, impacting communication reliability. Understanding and addressing these threats are crucial to fortify UC security, ensuring protection against potential cyber risks and maintaining the integrity of communication systems.

I. Phishing Attacks

A. Definition and Types of Phishing  

Phishing refers to attempts to acquire sensitive data like login credentials or financial information by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in electronic communications. In relation to UC, phishing attacks typically involve fraudulent emails, chats or calls that spoof the identity of trusted contacts to trick users. 

Common phishing techniques include:

- Email spoofing - Using fake email addresses and domains that resemble legitimate ones.

- Caller ID spoofing - Falsifying the caller ID with numbers of known organizations. 

- Impersonation - Assuming the identity of executives, IT, help desk or other internal personnel.

- Whaling - Targeting senior executives and their assistants who are likely to have access to sensitive data.

- Vishing - Combining voice calling and phishing by getting users to call fraudulent numbers.

- Smishing - Phishing via SMS messages rather than just email and calls.

- Pharming - Redirecting website requests on UC clients to fake login portals to harvest credentials.

B. How Phishing Can Compromise UC Security

Phishing represents more than an immediate data breach threat. Once cyber attackers gain access to a Unified Communications (UC) system, it becomes a potential gateway for more severe breaches. Intruders can plant malware, initiating a cascade of potential threats within the system. This malware could serve as a persistent access point, enabling continuous infiltration or triggering other malicious activities, such as launching Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Here are some key points : 

- Account takeover - Credentials harvested can grant access to contacts, histories and shared files.

- Data theft - Attackers can exfiltrate sensitive documents, emails, call recordings and screenshots.

- Financial fraud - Users may be duped into unauthorized money transfers. 

- Malware injection - Malicious software installation through tainted downloads. 

- Denial of service - Accounts or systems compromised through phishing can be disrupted.

- Impersonation - Attackers can leverage stolen identities to further social engineer users.

- Misinformation - Fraudulent communications can spread disinformation and confusion.

Overall, phishing corrodes trust in the identity and integrity of UC communications. It also serves as a stepping stone to greater breaches within the organization.

C. Preventative Measures for Phishing Attacks

Preventative measures for phishing involve training, filters, verifications, and configurations to secure UC systems against fraudulent attacks and breaches. Organizations can implement various controls to protect against phishing on UC channels:

- User security training - This raises awareness on common phishing tactics.

- Automated spam filtering - Messages from suspicious domains can be blocked.

- Sender verification - Email/chat tools can check authenticity of sources.

- Blocking spoofed addresses - Prevent fake caller IDs and forged email addresses. 

- Multi-factor authentication - Require additional factors beyond passwords for account login. 

- Monitoring third-party access - Audit external apps and services connected to UC. 

- Limiting privileges - Only provide access to features and data needed for a role.

- Verifying requests - Have policies requiring in-person or secondary confirmation of unusual asks.

- Platform configuration - Harden UC server settings and keep software patched.

- Incident response planning – Have workflows to rapidly contain and eradicate any successful phishing attacks.

II. Eavesdropping and Interception  

A. Definition and Risks of Eavesdropping

Eavesdropping refers to secretly listening in on private communications and information like phone calls, video conferences, instant messages, voicemails, shared screens, etc. Attackers may intercept UC traffic on the network during transmission or gain illicit access to internal systems to spy on communications.

Major risks include:

- Data theft – Capture of intellectual property, trade secrets, customer information, credentials and more. This enables further exploitation.

- Corporate espionage – Rival organizations can gain competitive intelligence by monitoring communications and documents.  

- Legal liability – If sensitive data like customer records or financial information is exposed, there may be compliance violations and fines.

- Reputation loss – Media coverage of an eavesdropping incident can severely damage an organization’s public image and customer trust.

B. Impacts on UC conversations and data

The presence of eavesdroppers severely diminishes the expected privacy and confidentiality of UC conversations and materials. Users may end up unwilling to collaborate or share information if they suspect monitoring. The chilling effects of eavesdropping create friction in communications.

Specific impacts include:

- Less open dialogue – Users censor sensitive topics if they suspect eavesdropping.

- Operational disruption – Teams unable to freely coordinate if they distrust their communications environment. 

- Avoidance of services – Workers might shun UC entirely and revert to less efficient ad hoc methods.

- Data tainting – Fraudulent data or misinformation may be inserted during interception.

- Account compromise – Stolen credentials can let attackers impersonate users and spread disinformation. 

- Further breaches – Intercepted data facilitates lateral movement throughout networks to compromise additional systems and data.

C. Comprehensive Measures to Safeguard Against Eavesdropping

Organizations must deploy multiple protective measures against eavesdropping in Unified Communications. Encryption, authentication, access controls, and physical security, combined with continuous monitoring and user awareness, bolster UC safety against unauthorized interception of communications. Organizations can implement various controls to safeguard against eavesdropping:

- Encryption – Applying end-to-end and in-transit encryption prevents unauthorized access to communications and content. VoIP calls and instant messaging can utilize SRTP and SIP TLS.

- Authentication – Verifying identities of end points to thwart man-in-the-middle attacks. Digital certificates fronted by hardware tokens provide stronger assurance.

- Access controls – Only allowing authorized devices and users to connect to UC infrastructure and communication links. This reduces insecure points of access.

- Physical controls – Securing offices, endpoints, cabling, telco closets, mobile devices against hands-on tampering. Locking rooms with UC infrastructure limits physical connections.

- Monitoring – Security analytics tools can detect anomalous media streams and endpoint connections that could indicate eavesdropping.

- Secure coding – Rigorously developing and testing UC applications to prevent vulnerabilities that could enable spying capabilities.

- User awareness – Educating users to be cautious of sensitive conversations, screensharing or documents if unencrypted mediums are needed. Speaking in vague terms if concerned.

III. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks

A. What DDoS attacks are

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks aim to make systems and resources unavailable by flooding them with an overwhelming amount of fake traffic. Attackers leverage botnets of numerous compromised devices to barrage targets from distributed sources in a coordinated assault. Common DDoS attack types include:

- Volumetric attacks – UDP floods, ICMP floods, and other protocol attacks that congest bandwidth.

- Application attacks – Slowloris, GET/POST floods, etc. which overwhelm application resources.

- Layer 7 attacks – Exploiting logic flaws versus flooding resources. Low-rate and asymmetrical attacks make detection challenging. 

DDoS attacks vary in scale, frequency and duration. High-volume attacks may utilize Gbps of traffic from tens of thousands of bots to saturate Internet links. Lower volume yet sustained attacks are harder to distinguish from normal fluctuations in traffic.

B. How they disrupt UC services

By starving the UC infrastructure of resources like server capacity, network bandwidth and load balancer connections, DDoS attacks can severely degrade performance and availability of services. Effects include:

- Service unavailability – Users unable to make VoIP calls, send messages, join web conferences, etc. Communications are cut-off.

- Lag and latency – Delayed or sluggish communications that impede collaboration. Jitter and packet loss degrade VoIP call quality.  

- Partial outages – Load balancer failures can cause localized loss of access to services. 

- Registration issues – Floods can prevent devices from registering to UC servers.

- Resource exhaustion – Back-end UC servers like SIP proxies are overwhelmed and unable to process requests. Crashes likely.

- Inability to isolate – Attack traffic may saturate Internet links, preventing re-routing techniques.

C. Strategies to Safeguard Unified Communications from DDoS Attacks

Organizations have a diverse array of strategies to fortify Unified Communications (UC) against DDoS attacks. From overprovisioning and load balancing to traffic profiling and emergency re-routing, each method provides a distinct layer of defense. Organizations have various options for safeguarding UC availability against DDoS disruption:

- Overprovisioning – Maintaining bandwidth, server and load balancer headroom reduces impact of floods.

- Load balancing – Distributes attack traffic across multiple servers to handle excess volume.

- Rate limiting – Throttle traffic levels per source to slow resource consumption.

- Address blacklisting – Block known attack toolkits, botnet IPs.

- Traffic profiling – Baseline normal traffic to detect anomalies indicative of DDoS. 

- Emergency re-routing – Switch to backup ISP links if primary Internet connectivity is saturated. 

- ISP coordination – Work with ISPs to block attack traffic upstream before reaching the UC environment.

- Anti-botnet efforts – Working with law enforcement and vendors to dismantle botnets and cut off DDoS activity at the source.

IV. Insider Threats

A. Overview & Types of insider threats in UC

Insider threats refer to risks stemming from employees, contractors, partners, and others within an organization. These trusted users already have some degree of access which they can potentially misuse, intentionally or accidentally, to compromise security. 

Insider threats pose risks such as: 

- Data theft – Stealing intellectual property, customer info, business documents.

- Fraud – Financial manipulation, embezzlement.

- Sabotage – Service disruption, destruction of resources. 

- Espionage – Sharing confidential data with competitors or nation-states.

- Unintentional mistakes – Errors and policy violations exposing data and systems.

Malicious insiders may act for monetary gain through theft or fraud, or revenge against the company. Non-malicious insider mistakes can still prove damaging.

B. Ways insiders can compromise UC security

Insiders pose a significant threat to UC security through various means. Whether inadvertently or intentionally, insiders might leak sensitive information, misuse their privileges, or bypass security measures. Unauthorized access and data breaches initiated by employees, whether through negligence or malicious intent, can seriously compromise the integrity of UC systems. Check below list : 

- Unauthorized eavesdropping on calls, messages, meetings.

- Misusing access for espionage against the company.

- Installing backdoors to enable future unauthorized access.

- Disabling logging/security controls to avoid detection. 

- Using elevated privileges to siphon data.

- Impersonating executives for financial fraud or disinformation.

- Sabotage of infrastructure causing service outages.

Their inside knowledge helps circumvent security measures. Collusion with external parties also increases threat.

C. Monitoring and Defending Against Insider Threats

To counter insider threats, organizations must enact a series of rigorous controls. Implementing the principle of least privilege, maintaining comprehensive access logs, conducting thorough background checks, and employing encryption are vital practices. Furthermore, ongoing training, secure coding standards, and regular monitoring play pivotal roles in fortifying against internal security risks. Organizations can implement various controls to counter insider threats:

- Segmentation – Keep UC infrastructure segregated from general corporate network to limit attack surface.

- Encryption – Protect sensitive data at rest and in-transit even from insiders.

- Training – Educate employees on policies and secure practices.

- Blocking rogue devices – Prevent use of unauthorized apps, hardware that could expose systems.

- Remote wiping – Selectively wipe data from lost or compromised mobile devices.  

- Monitoring – Analyze usage patterns to detect potential espionage.

- Secure coding – Rigorously develop UC apps to prevent insider manipulation bugs.

- Timely termination – Swiftly disable access upon any signs of insider risk like policy violations or employment severance. 

VI. Conclusion

Kumo provides comprehensive solutions for securing your organization's unified communications platforms against the ever-evolving threat landscape. Our team of experts stays on top of the latest UC risks and designs tailored security packages to meet your specific technical and operational needs. Key offerings include assessment and planning, implementation of UC security controls, managed security services, incident response, and end user security training. Contact Kumo today at 949-333-1083 to discuss a program for protecting your UC infrastructure and data against cyber threats.

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