Even if you’ve never heard of the term Voice-over-IP, or “VoIP”, calling, you’ve probably used this technology to place a call before if you’ve ever used Skype or Google Voice. VoIP allows you to make calls over the internet, rather than a traditional phone line. VoIP technology is very useful for privacy as you can set up many phone numbers on one device at a low cost.
On my mobile device, I have completely switched over to using VoIP numbers and avoid the use of my SIM-card phone number (I don’t even know what it is.) While switching over my sensitive communications, I wondered whether VoIP calls were as insecure as regular mobile phone calls. So, today I’m going to share what I found about whether or not VoIP calls can be traced, and how the security compares to SIM-card phone numbers.
VoIP calls cannot be traced like a traditional phone number. Since the calls are made over the internet, no one can trace your specific location through cell phone tower triangulation. Additionally, no one should be able to intercept and listen in on your calls, since most VoIP providers offer encryption. However, your caller ID information and the IP address of your VoIP service provider may be exposed.
Can my location be traced on a VoIP call?
We all can recall a scene from crime movies where a criminal is on the phone with a law enforcement officer who stalls to triangulate the location where the call is coming from.
Triangulation of the location of a caller through cell towers is not possible with a VoIP number. This is because a VoIP call does not rely on cell towers to place the call, but rather does so over the internet. Thus, the only outward-facing information is the IP address of the server used by your VoIP service provider to route the call.
Can VoIP calls be wiretapped?
No one can eavesdrop on VoIP calls as long as the call is encrypted. Most VoIP service providers offer encryption, but it may not be set-up by default. If you don’t have encryption set up and make a call on an insecure network, such as public WiFi, the content of your call may be monitored.
What Caller ID information is shared on a VoIP call?
Most VoIP providers allow you to customize what Caller ID information appears when you call another number. Therefore, for the sake of privacy, Caller ID on a VoIP number isn’t a big threat since you can control this information. It may even be beneficial to use Caller ID for disinformation, such as setting it to an alias name in order to make the alias more convincing.
Be wary that Caller ID spoofing with the intent to commit fraud is illegal. However, if you do not have the “intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value,” then transmitting false or misleading caller ID information is generally legal, but be sure to check your local laws before attempting this. Necessary disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and not providing official legal advice.
Can my IP address be traced on a VoIP call?
The only outward-facing IP address on a VoIP call is that of your VoIP service provider. Your service provider, however, does know what IP address you placed the call from. This is necessary in order to route the call in the first place. Therefore, your real IP address may be exposed depending on the adversary you are concerned about.
Government or law enforcement may easily be able to request or subpoena the VoIP service provider for any information on your VoIP number. A determined hacker may be able to access your account through exploits or social engineering on the service provider. The average Joe, however, is probably just going to be able to figure out which VoIP service provider you use.
How can I protect my privacy on a VoIP call?
An easy way to protect your IP address when placing a call through a VoIP number is to use a VPN. This way, your service provider will only see the IP address of the VPN server that you used, not your real IP address.
Additionally, I recommend that you add two-factor authentication to any VoIP account that is important to you. This could mean getting a code sent to your email, setting up an authenticator app, or a hardware key like a Yubikey.
Which VoIP providers are best for privacy?
I’ve been happy with VoIP.ms for calling and SMS. They offer encrypted calls, let you choose which server routes your calls, let you easily edit Caller ID information, and support short-code messages. Additionally, the service can be set up with fully free and open-source applications from the alternative app store F-Droid, using Linphone for calls and their own application for SMS.
In the near future, I will be releasing a tutorial going in-detail into how I set up VoIP.ms for my VoIP calling and texting. Also, VoIP.ms isn’t the only service that offers this, there are many other VoIP providers that I will be testing out in the future. Stay tuned for those updates.