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Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is currently receiving much attention and seems to be the most promising candidate as a signaling protocol for the current and future IP telephony services, also becoming a real competitor to the plain old telephone service. For the realization of such a scenario, there is an obvious need to provide a certain level of quality and security, comparable to that provided by the traditional telephone systems. While the problem of QoS mostly refers to the network layer, the problem of security is strictly related to the signaling mechanisms and the service provisioning model. For this reason, at present, a very hot topic in the SIP and IP telephony standardization track is security support. In this work, the security model used by SIP is described, and the different open issues are highlighted. We focus, in particular, on the problem of authentication providing a short tutorial on the solution under standardization. The architecture of a possible commercial IP telephony service including user authentication is also described. Finally, we focus on performance issues. By means of a real testbed implementation, we provide an experimental performance analysis of the SIP security mechanisms, based on our open source Java implementation of a SIP proxy server. The performance of the server has been compared with and without security support, under various scenarios.