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syslayot_500x308It’s amazing how cavalier we can be with secrets – or stuff that should be secret. Next time you’re on the bus or train, or even in an elevator, do a little eavesdropping on the folks holding conversations on their cellphones. Most of them are “throwaways,” but a couple will sound important – really important. Kind of makes you curious as to what the other side is saying, too!

Many of us tend to bandy secrets about, believing that we are the only ones who know/care what we’re talking about. But there are secrets that could be very damaging to a lot of people if they got out. Not security secrets, necessarily; we would expect the people in charge of those things to protect information our enemies would stop at nothing to acquire. Although sometimes those secrets get out, as well. During the 2006 war in Lebanon, for example, Hizbullah terrorists said that they had managed to crack IDF radio signals using Iranian technology. According to reports, Hizbullah hackers monitored IDF radio signals, and were able to penetrate communications even when the signals changed.

And there are other secrets that many of us would prefer remain secret; the kind of secrets that when they get out become the stuff the news is made of. Political parties, organizations that treat those in mental distress, lawyers, stockbrokers – all hold information that can make or break careers, families, and even whole societies. Those who hold that information do their best to keep it to themselves, at least the information on their computers and servers.

But those secret-keepers have overlooked a major security hole; they may have protected their computers, but what about their cellphones? While hacking into cellphone conversations or hijacking  SMS messages isn’t as common as other forms of data invasion, cellphone hacking is a useful way for someone to get “dirt” on their political enemies, or otherwise acquire information that can compromise the innocent and semi-innocent. In fact, it’s more than useful; cellphone hacking is an excellent way to get compromising information, since people are more likely to spill something in conversation that they might be a little more reticent to in writing. Loose lips sink ships, and all that.

Far from being a paranoid’s nightmare, this kind of thing goes on every day, says Alex Argov, CEO of Israel’s Tikal Networks. A telephony integrator, Tikal has a variety of VoIP solutions for businesses, including its unique Cryptone system, which uses end-to-end encryption to prevent hackers from invading private cellphone conversations – protecting both the data and voice parts of the conversation.

“Using our special encryption software, people on both sides of the conversation can be assured that what they say in confidence remains their affair,” Argov says. “Unlike other companies offering encryption for phone calls, we don’t install our protection on a central server or PBX, which would allow hackers to hijack the information directly from the handset,” if they had been able to install a hacking program, he says. “Our protection is installed on handsets on both sides of the conversation, and the data and voice are encrypted, sent through the network, and descrambled on the other handset.” Thus, he says, even hackers who hang around the area with scanners and other tools designed to catch   voice signals are thwarted, “because all their equipment will be able to pick up is static,” says Argov.

Developed after a request by the Italian Navy for a secure communications system, the Tikal security system uses triple DES encryption, about as strong as you can get, and effectively sets up a VPN between the two sides of the conversation, for even more security. Cryptone can encrypt all calls from either PSTN phones or cellphones, and can even encrypt video, Argov says. It’s ideal for anyone looking to keep their secrets secret, and indeed, Tikal’s web site lists a number of security organizations, financial firms – as well as political parties and social service organizations – using Tikal products, including Cryptone.

And while they’re getting their phone calls protected, most of the organizations go for some of Tikal’s other products, like the CrystalManager, a fully featured call manager, personal monitoring tool and CTI for Asterisk PBX systems, or the Crystal Call Center, which offers graphical control over call centers and other business telephony functions. Tikal even offers a solution for Israeli businesspeople working abroad – the EZCall, which intercepts phone calls being made abroad and reroutes them to a local IP phone number, and then routes then via VoIP to their destination abroad, thus saving companies big money on international phone calls. The Petach Tikvah-based company helps out not only Israelis; it has installed systems throughout Europe, the United States, Russia, and even Africa, with its latest contract for a huge telephony project along 1.300 kilometers of train track in Zambia, stretching from Victoria Falls to the South African border.

But it’s the security package that’s the star at Tikal – at least to the folks like us, who have definitely wondered about the security of their cellphone conversations. It’s nice to know that at least one company is doing to help us mind our own business!

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