BTL’s Vonage “Blocks” EXPOSED

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Over the past few days, I've enjoyed a crash course in Vonage technology, specifically the basics of SIP. Vonage has actually been pretty good. The NJ folks in top level customer support are savvy and willing to help.

I credit OpenBSD and more broadly, my UNIX-based firewall and it's tools or a lot of this new knowledge. If you are interested, check out tcpdump and ngrep and even old favorites like ssh, ping, traceroute and telnet.

I am not quite done with discovery, but it is clear at this point that BTL is using a VoIP firewall. Otherwise known as ALG (application layer gateway), this software "function" has many commerical names. Beyond looking at TCP/UDP ports (Layer 4), this software is looking at the VoIP payload itself (Layer 5/6/7), specifically at the SIP packets. Most of these VoIP security companies serve enterprises with legitimate security mechanisms, but a few of them are marketing "mediation" product to ISPs which is basically a "VoIP-be-gone" pill for your network.

Most large ISPs in the USA and Europe push far too much capacity for any reasonable Layer 4+ filtering. This type of inspection performed on billions of packets per second is costly and introduces performance challenges. Most ISPs don't operate with the protection of a government sponsored monopoly either.

I am 95% certain I know what is going on, but I need one more day to nail down the specifics. At this point, it looks like they might be re-writing the SIP packets, picking out the good stuff of the packet and putting bad stuff back in like BUSY and CANCEL. Forgive my generalizing here and forgive me if I have it totally wrong.

My guess is that BTL has installed a whiz bang VoIP firewall which they have on a trial basis. They are checking it out and seeing if they want to pay Joe Shmoe slick-USA software company for a license. My advice to BTL – channel that money into something else. Something else like – better services and better support.

More to follow…


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