Four weeks ago Faktortel (Australian VoIP service provider) forced me to shut down my tor exit node.

For several years I was donating bandwidth to tor network by operating low-bandwidth tor exit node. During these years I got no complaints whatsoever as my exit node was restricted to access only small range of whitelisted ports while all access to common services such as mail/SSH/VoIP were prohibited.

Obviously anyone should exercise extra care when operating tor exit node. In my case I had only one IP on my ADSL router so I would be crazy if I let tor network to access common ports like SSH (22) or VoIP (5060).

It all began on Wednesday 3rd of April 2013 when all of a sudden telephone services lost connection to Faktortel server(s). Quick check revealed that their web site is down (as I thought back then) so on that day I did nothing knowing that once in a while disasters may happen to everyone and that such situation would hardly pass unnoticed and therefore it won't help if I distract the team with yet another support request.

However when the following day Faktortel web site was still down together with telephone services I had to investigate and quickly found that Faktortel web site is accessible from other locations. I emailed to Faktortel support to ask them to investigate and suggested that the likely cause for the problem is incorrect firewalling.

To my surprise someone called "Chris" explained that I was banned due to Faktortel blockade of tor network (i.e. exit nodes). At that time I thought that I was a unintentional victim of collateral damage from unnecessary broad firewalling. I suggested to whitelist my IP address. Faktortel responded with demand to shut down my tor exit node to restore access to their services due to their concerns for security of their network, specifically in regards to VoIP port 5060. Quoting Faktortel support:

"TOR is used for call anonymity unfortunately ... we have found over time that it poses a security risk to our network as a whole.
We are only protecting our network from unscrupulous individuals who may choose the use the TOR service to hide their origin."

I've been advised that my access to telephone services will be restored within 24 hours after stopping tor exit node.

To me this sounded outrageous because service provider should not ask to shut down unrelated service(s). Besides such demand is utterly irrational and unfair. Default tor configuration do not allow accessing ports 5060. I speculate that just like myself most careful (and responsible) operators of tor exit nodes would restrict (i.e. prohibit) access to such ports as suggested in tor manual. Moreover tor is a slow network. It can be hardly used with low-latency services like VoIP and of course we want to reserve scarce available bandwidth mostly to web services. Therefore tor network is a low threat for VoIP providers and banning tor users would make as much sense as to ban red cars (because some criminals were using them in the past) or blue jeans (because criminals might use them).

Fartortel was especially unfair to me because I've never allowed anyone to attack them using my IP address or to access telephone services anonymously. I had no history of security breaches and they (Faktortel) never complained about suspicious activity. I tried to reason with Faktortel and spent hours trying to explain the above arguments to them. Still it was no use.

I found it hard to believe that they can treat a client like that. I had to inform them that I will have to cancel all services and publicly disclose the details of this incident. They replied that "If you feel you can't turn off TOR then you are more then welcome to cancel your account...". I consider their behaviour irresponsible and unethical as due to their unwillingness to help we lost almost 5 full days without telephone services and some hours discussing the matter with support.

As I mentioned I used Faktortel services for business phone. It is advertised on numerous published materials and replacing such phone number takes time and effort. So I had to stop tor exit node to restore VoIP services. Unfortunately it took another support request to whitelist my IP because it IP wasn't cleared automatically after 24 hours. Due to Faktortel irresponsible behaviour and lack of respect to SLA I spent several days with no phone even though Faktortel was aware of problem on second day. I found their disrespect and negligence extraordinary so I've decided to find another VoIP provider, hopefully the one who really have their client's best interests in mind.

On a side note I'd like to mention another incident that I had with Faktortel back in September 2011 when all of a sudden I've noticed that we couldn't make international calls any more (earlier in June 2009 I requested to remove all restrictions for international calls). Faktortel support explained that international dialing "reset after a certain length of time" and suggested to provide "with the country codes that you would like to have enabled on your account". Once again they requested an authorisation to enable international dialing after they stopped the service without asking whenever we need one or not. I had to explain that due to nature of business we need to be able to make international calls to ~100 countries all the time and that I have no intention to maintain list of countries using support requests. The issue was resolved.

I was using Faktortel services for business phone since 2009. During this time I had no technical problems with them whatsoever.

So to summarise my 4+ years of experience with Faktortel I must say it's less than satisfiable. Although they are OK technically unfortunately their management sometimes behave irrationally and apparently pay little attention to client's needs. They introduce unwanted changes unexpectedly and without prior notice. Beware of them as there must be service providers who is more worthy of your support than Faktortel.

See also