The best kept secret

The News of the World phone hacking scandal in the UK showed how easy it is to access private data. Simon Rockman talks to companies whose business is protecting other people’s confidential information and providing unhackable voicemail services

The best kept secret

Even before the brouhaha over phone hacking in the UK there were people working on stopping it: Golden Orb Networks and CryptoExpress are two companies that provide a range of secure services including secure voicemail.

The recent outing of pretty much the entire tabloid journalist community for listening in to messages left for the powerful and famous has thrust these companies into the limelight. This is rather an uncomfortable position for companies whose speciality is the ability to keep secrets. Their customers like to remain in the shadows and it’s best for them if their best kept secret supplier stays that way.

Golden Orb Networks is a favourite telephony provider of many of the country’s police forces. They provide secure services to all kinds of security-conscious people. The type that carry guns and those they want to protect.

Ethical decisions

The power of these systems, which are of tremendous value to people on both sides of the law and to regimes that might today be in favour but tomorrow might be overthrown, is a business challenge. ‘Sometimes you have to make ethical rather than commercial decisions,’ says Simon Cavill (pictured), CEO of Golden Orb Networks, ‘but you usually find that what is good ethically, turns out – long-term – to be the best route financially.’

The fundamental strength of Golden Orb is that it is a Tier I fixed-line operator. It is recognised as such by Ofcom and other international phone companies and so it can request numbering groups for the UK and overseas. Golden Orb runs its phone network and has control of the signalling and the traffic. All calls handed off to it also have the full signalling and billing information.

This allows it to link different types of network. It can work with security services using TETRA and civilians via GSM, or security services from multiple countries doing co-ordinated work in a way that needs their communications networks, of whatever flavour, to be linked. While this is normal in the world of telephony, it’s unusual in PMR.

Security services

Golden Orb has a huge number of services aimed at both the security-conscious and those looking for flexibility. A single number in one country can offer local numbers for customers around the world. This is ideal for a company that wants to keep its customer service staff close to its developers, but still provide international support. 

Golden Orb has numbers issued by Ofcom in the UK and from either the regulator or other telcos in overseas countries. For some territories it can even map to mobile numbers. And of course, it can give all these properties to a mobile number. So your UK mobile can look like a local phone to people all over the world.

It’s the secure voicemail, however, that is going to be of more interest. Each user gets a web portal, and optional email, telling them who has accessed their voicemail and when. The ‘who’ uses the signalling information, not the CLI (Calling Line Identification), so if the number is withheld, or the CLI has been spoofed, the real originating number is still shown. 

The voicemail isn’t cheap at £16.50 per user, per month but it also includes a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) client that allows the user to securely check their voicemail. That price includes a dealer margin – a service that can be sold with an ongoing revenue stream.

An allied service is secure conference calling. Again, it uses real rather than CLI derived numbers. It can be set up to only allow incoming calls from specified numbers and gives the operator full visibility of who is on the call and conference recording. Where there is a chance of interception there is an encrypted client from the Cambridge company Cellcrypt, which will protect the incoming leg of the call with the conferencing system, allowing decryption for all the incoming users.

VoIP service

Something that marks Golden Orb out is the way it embraces old-fashioned telephony, the worlds of SS7 and X25 with an IP twist. No service does this better than its Go Voice offering, which is much like Google Voice, but from a telco perspective.

It is a VoIP service which can offer a huge variety of numbers for dialing in and out, including 0800, 0870, 0845 and mobile. It’s very intelligent in the way it can handle incoming numbers. They can be set up with a whitelist so that only particular numbers can call or a blacklist barring particular numbers. Users who call with barred numbers can either receive an engaged tone or be directed to voicemail.

Callers who withhold CLI can be asked to press a number to reveal the CLI and then be put through, or played a message saying they are going to voicemail because they have withheld their number.

The flexibility of Go Voice makes it ideal for organisations that have a duty of care. It allows companies such as a firm of criminal solicitors to have someone on call, on mobile all the time without revealing the individual mobile numbers of people to less than salubrious clients.

Panic number

Other services are ideal for emergency situations. A panic number can be set up; when it is called, the calls are routed to multiple people in search of help. It can either ring a list of numbers in turn or all of them simultaneously. This is ideal for elderly people living alone who might need urgent help if they fall over.

A tangential rival to Golden Orb is CryptoExpress. This is a company which has come to telephony from an IP background. It’s not a telco, but deeply understands security. Indeed, the company was born from its work on UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access).

Early on it discovered just how easy it was to listen in to calls. ‘We panicked,’ says MD Ray Winter. And so it set about building a secure system, which grew into secure voicemail, email, calendar and instant messaging, all delivered as Software as a service (SaaS). The software runs as a client on most smartphone platforms: Android 2.2, BlackBerry, iOS and Windows Phone. After a call, all data in the device is wiped clean.

While Golden Orb targets police forces, CryotoExpress has a slightly different remit – it meets the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) in the US, and is aimed at legal and medical services. The service has been fantastically successful with 85,000 users across nearly 500 customers, the largest of which is a heavy weapons manufacturer that was recently hacked.

Both companies allow the client to keep all data, email, voicemail and messaging on the customers’ secure servers. Nothing need exist, unencrypted, outside the business. The vendors can then supply  support to help IT run it, or they can host everything externally, but in both scenarios the staff are security cleared.

For any mobile systems integrator or reseller with clients who have a security need that goes beyond BlackBerry mail, particularly those that need to be seen to be secure as well as actually being secure, the different solutions fill a very necessary hole.

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

Leave a Comment