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TOPIC: How could this work?

How could this work? 13 years 6 months ago #9821

  • jwj
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In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced recently internet telephony must be able to be tapped . My question, is how could they expect to ever achieve this?

I did a little brainstorming about a couple of possible ways. One, there could be a built in feature for all future VOIP hardware that could be turned on by say the FBI and it would send a copy of everything transmitted to where they wanted. The other way I thought of is for them to transparently capture the packets coming from that phone at a higher level (the ISP).

However, I think it would be easy to get around both ways. For the first method, all you would have to do is monitor your own outbound packets and see if anything out of the ordinary is happening. For the second method, they could always set up some sort of encrypted tunnel to somewhere else, overseas even, leaving the garbled mess of encrypted packets when they are monitoring the calls. Does this not seem like an impossible task? I think the FCC is making lots of bad decisions lately, not to mention the deregulation of DSL...yeah there's a reason why phone and cable companies are treated differently in the U.S. It's because the phone lines were paid by the taxpayers, but the cable companies paid to run their own lines.

Re: How could this work? 13 years 6 months ago #9827

  • nske
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heh I don't know about the Federal Communications Commission, but it is quite common for similar authorities (at least around here) to make impossible requests and demand compliance! Such requests are probably made by people with no understanding of the technologies involved, that just transfer their wishes to paper and even bother to support them legally (like that can change something).

Technically speaking, there is no possible way to guarantee access to a third party over any data exchanged between two hosts in any kind of free digital network, since the actual data do not need to have any standard footprint (pattern) during the transfer (or even the storage). One may go as far as to capture the digital representation of the data during their transmission, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it will make any sense to him. Of course one can also restrict the flow of data in a network (or the part of a network) that he controls, cutting out transmissions that don't comply to specific patterns. However the resources and complications to make effective use of this possibility in our scenario, render it inapplicable in real life -even if it wasn't, how many entities would have to agree in order to implement something like this, in a local scale even, for a network like the Internet? -

What they can only do, is try to control the technology and it's implementations to some extend, by mechanisms like legal handles and underground promotion, to enforce / encourage to the public the use of products/providers/protocols that will attempt to do what they want. If VoIP was a technology only accessible through "out-of-the-box" equipment and demanding special infastructure (more or less like GSM), this would probably be successful enough, but as it is I can't imagine it.

However, the report quotes that "the ruling only covers VOIP services that let customers dial from their computers to the traditional phone network". In this case things are different, since in fact the service provider is the one that the user will be connecting to, following his protocols and rules, so everything is possible with the provider's cooporation. ;)

PS. DSL deregulation? What's that? :shock:

Re: How could this work? 13 years 6 months ago #9903

Why isn't this possible? Can someone please direct me (or explain) to a location where I could learn why it isn't possible to tap VoIP conversations?

Thank you

Re: How could this work? 13 years 6 months ago #9909

  • nske
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Indeed we should be more specific on that. There is nothing inherent in the VoIP technology that prohibits the use of "tapping" technologies. A VoIP conversation can be tapped, as much as any data can be captured in any network. But since the data of the conversation needs to be decodable and decryptable in order to mean something, the only way to guarantee that, is through a controlled network -like usual phone networks, or VoIP service providers' networks- where only data with standard (predifined) format (compression algorithm, encryption, ..) pass. And of course this format must be able to be decoded/decrypted at any place of the network, not only at the ends (like some encryption technologies allow).

So, in other words, an authority may easily tap the conversations at any controlled network, as long as the adminsitrator of this network cooporates (by enforcing appropriate standards -protocols- that will be followed by it's users). Which means i.e. that if there is a large VoIP service provider somewhere and agrees, the conversations of the people that utilize his network can be tapped.

However the Internet (as the best example) is a free and completely open global network, which means that anyone can utilize it for any purpose (within the tcp/ip scope), using his own standards or even well-known transparent encryption technologies like ipsec to encapsulate his data in an encrypted way. So actually VoIP conversations can easily be passed through it in a format (compression, encryption, etc) that is only understandable (decodable/decryptable) by those involved, consequently even if the traffic of the conversation data was to be captured and delivered to a single authority (which on it's own is impossible because of the inability to distinguish traffic in such a manner and also because of Internet's global scale), a conversation could still be described in a not recoverable format and thus be useless.

I hope that makes sense :)

Re: How could this work? 13 years 6 months ago #9925

In the United Kingdom, the government have a habit of doing things like this. They make wonderful announcements about what they are going to do. Then, they leave it to the techies to try and do it. However, sometimes it's impossible to do, but they only realise this after spending millions of pounds, instead of asking the Techies first!

UK 13 years 6 months ago #9929

Amen, Rockape!!
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