Are Your Calls More Secure With Landline or With VoIP?

Landline or VoIP?
Landline or VoIP?. SteveDF/E+/Getty Images

Privacy in phone conversations is becoming more and more of a concern nowadays. One reason is the increasing number of tools of communication and the subsequently increasing number of vulnerabilities and threats. Another reason is the number of privacy scandals that relate to phone communication. So, are you safer communication with your landline phone or with your VoIP app?

To begin, we need to understand that none of these two modes of communication is safe and private.

Authorities can wiretap your conversations in both settings. Hackers can too, but here is the difference. Hackers will find it more difficult to hack and eavesdrop on the telephone line than on VoIP. This also applies for authorities. 

It is interesting to note that, according to statistics from statista.com, the perceived security with respect to communication methods is more among people using landline communication compared to those using Internet-based telephony (around 60 percent against 40 percent). This means that people have the perception of being more secure with landline calls than with VoIP.

Consider the way data travels in each way. The landline phone transfers data from source to destination through a method called circuit switching. Prior to communication and transfer, a path is determined and dedicated to communication between the source and destination, between the caller and the callee.

This path is called a circuit, and this circuit remains closed for this call until one of the correspondents hangs up. 

On the other hand, VoIP calls take place through packet switching, in which the voice data (which is now digital) is broken down in labeled and 'enveloped' chunks called packets. These packets are sent over the network, which is the jungle of the Internet, and they find their way through towards the destination.

The packets may tread different routes one from the other, and there is no predetermined circuit. When the packets reach the destination node, they are reordered, reassembled and consumed by it. 

The difference between circuit and packet switching explains the difference in cost between PSTN phone calls and VoIP calls, which are often free. 

This also explains why it is easier for hackers and eavesdroppers to intercept data during communication thereby breaching privacy. The packets that are disseminated over the Internet through unsecured channels are easily intercepted at any node. Moreover, since the data is digital, it can be stored and manipulated in ways that PSTN data cannot. VoIP being more advanced and sophisticated than PSTN, the avenues for hacking and breaching privacy are more sophisticated thereon too. Besides, many of the nodes through which the VoIP packets pass are not optimized for VoIP communication and, therefore, render the channel vulnerable.

One way to be more tranquil about your privacy during phone calls and text messaging is to use an app and service that offers encryption and enhanced security. Rule out apps like Skype and WhatsApp which, besides offering no security feature (so far), are known for security issues that some would qualify as scandals.

Germans and Russians are quite conscious of this kind of security and have come up with apps that you can consider as examples: Threema, Telegram and Tox, to name just a few. 

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