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'Lawful interception' firm tapping into Europe, Asia Pacific

Network diversity spurs growth

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3GSM Lawful interception firm SS8 Networks is using the 3GSM show to set out its stall in Europe. The firm, which makes middleware that helps service providers manage the collection of data from wiretaps across multiple voice and data connections, also announced a resale agreement with Pen-Link, a firm whose software allows law enforcement agencies to make sense out of the data SS8 collects.

SS8 Networks' Xcipio products allow carriers to meet regulatory requirements for supporting law enforcement agencies. Wiretapping is much in the news, particularly in the US, with controversy over the Bush administration’s practice of authorising wiretops without warrants as part of its counter-terrorism efforts. The investigation of other forms of criminal activity also involve wiretapping.

SS8 chief executive Dennis Haar explained that monitored communication involves not only regular calls, but push to talk communications, multimedia messaging and wireless email. It’s this diversity of communication protocols across different network types – rather than the war on terror – that’s driving the growth in SS8’s lawful interception business.

"Network complexity is driving our business," Haar said. "Wiretapping involves more than just putting a couple of clips across a line. It’s very software intensive. The technology can do a lot and you won’t hear clicks on the line.”

Tap dance

Miscreants are always trying to stay one step ahead of law enforcement agencies. The ability to tap Push to Talk connections, for example, only came after the technology was introduced in the US. The need to manage wiretaps of Push to Talk connection drove demand for SS8’s technology in North America. The battleground has now moved over to VoIP services. “The widespread use of VoIP services such as Skype creates interesting challenges for law enforcement agencies. Potentially, it could drive whether services are legal or not in particular countries, or how they are delivered,” Haar said.

The number of warrants issued in the US that authorise law enforcement agencies is in the thousands. Authorisation for police to obtain call records but not to look at the content of communications is far more common.

Spooky

Haar said warrants are tightly controlled, but he concedes that practices such as warrantless wiretapping in the US, to say nothing of signals intelligence agencies such as the NSA, mean this is only part of the picture.

"Service providers have a process for dealing for warrants. What carriers do outside of lawful interception has nothing to do with SS8," he said.

Haar condemned the recently exposed US firms who sell call records to private detectives. “This information exists within network devices and in billing systems. I’m shocked that data brokers are able to sell it,” he said.

SS8, which started off the signaling software business before branching out into wiretapping, competes with Israeli firm Verint. Lucent and Nortel bundle SS8's software. Although SS8 is looking to expand its business into both the Europe and Asia Pacific regions, Haar said it was a "long way" from doing anything in China.®

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