Don’t Call Me; I’ll Call You. Well, Maybe.
symbiotic defensive mutualism – just another 3 incredibly long words to prod me to complain about both VoIP and cellular technology. And even though the Columbia research is new, Rutgers University found in 2010 that they could “In one test, the researchers showed how a root-kit could turn on a [cell] phone’s microphone without the owner knowing it happened”, so this isn’t new but it’s important because many corporation and government organizations use VoIP. For the record, I hardly ever bash technology. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) – the cost savings were boondoggles for corp infrastructure eh? Uh huh. VoIP is okay at work and cellular voice communication suck (on a very basic human level–not technically)- to put it mildly (actually technically those VoIP phones are sucking now if you read about the new security flaws). Those incredibly undulating analog communications over the POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) copper wires were perfect but technology took over.
My friends used to like me; until cell phones came along and ruined a normal conversation. It wasn’t the SMS (short messaging system) or texts that killed the conversation; it was DIGITAL voice communication! I hear all the time how stalwart die-hards are tired of being texted. How many business conference calls have you been on when one or more parties have cell phones or even one-on-one cell phone conversations where your words overrun another because of the inherent latency of that communication conduit? “Different types of digital connections add various amounts of latency with encoding, compression, and processing at each end, and sometimes also at points in-between. Additional latency can be added if a connection spans multiple types of networks.” Imagine that you said something and it was encoded, compressed by Verizon, sent to AT&T, uncompressed and decoded – by that time I had started talking and missed it. After 3 starts/stops/interruptions, I think the next time I need to check on you I’ll just settle for a text.
How many times have you overheard the sink running or out of breath sounds because the person on the conf call is actually walking up the stairs, doing a load of laundry or running to a late appointment? Or they say, “Oh sorry, I am wearing my headset and got too far away from the phone.” At least with POTS, you were stuck to a 5′ or 6′ radius! I last spoke to someone on a POTS system many years back when cell phones had almost completely taken over but she had an analog phone in her office building – it was like being on a phone call with Sarah Brightman and she was in full operatic mode. On old POTS when I ended my sentence the other caller began theirs and when a call wouldn’t go through then it just didn’t go through and I’d try later-no fumbling with hello …hello..what…did you hear that part. The modulation of emotion could be heard. “What?” never showed up in our discussion. “I’m sorry…go ahead..no you go ahead..no really” was never uttered. Call after call after call – eventually, it’s just easier to send the ubiquitous text. So, I propose that latency and ease of use caused the death of a phone call and ever surmounting emotionless text messages; not the opposite. You read exactly what I say when I text. We didn’t trip over each other’s conversation when really all I wanted to do was ask you a quick question or tell you that I need butter…oh and sugar too.
I can caveat this with: If you ever pause before sending a text because you aren’t quite sure or you have erased and re-typed more than 2x–you better dial! Oh I could go on all day; suffice it to say this is a critical security flaw. That is, there are “serious vulnerabilities in Cisco VoIP (voice over internet protocol) telephones, devices used around the world by a broad range of networked organizations from governments to banks to major corporations, and beyond”. And the really, really, ultra-cool part is that they can “eavesdrop on private conversations—not just on the phone but also in the phone’s surroundings…”. You know that fear in a conference room when you think the conf phone has “hung up”? Uh huh, enter this hack that allows the perpetrator to listen to those financial and business discussions you were so earnestly having and all you had to do was be in the room. They even found a way to turn off the conf phone lamp to appear dead. And it’s not just Cisco VoIP phones – think how simple home users could be hacked. No no, not YOU – who cares about your conversations…but what about officials? No normal user updates their firmware – the question is usually met with a distant and far away look in the eye when asked, “Firm what?”.
So hopefully this symbiotic defense mechanism will be guarding against loss of critical information, Either way, anything can and will be hacked (even POTS) but in order for government organizations to guard against loss of intelligence that could be safeguarding our country, they need to act quickly. Cisco says they developed a patch but this Computer Science Ph.D. candidate Ang Cui says there is no way to stop it — unless of course, you want to, well, update your firmware, or ask Cui to use his fancy Symbiote technology. The really funny thing is that DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) funded his research…yep, the same one that brought us the Internet (which is the highway that VoIP rides). Either way, if I could have my POTS copper line and a rotary dial, I would!
By the way, if you remember Ma Bell and Southern Bell you should read The Master Switch! Great book!