Communications officials not worried about digital radio security - Hartford Hobby Radio

A report that finds potential security flaws in common digital police radios is not surprising or disturbing, says the head of a Connecticut company that sells and maintains communications systems.

Tait Systems digital radio

Courtesy of Tait Radio Communications

Bruce Marcus, president of Marcus Communications in Manchester, says the research paper that shows vulnerabilities in APCO Project 25 digital radios is essentially correct, but "fails to point out that almost all existing two way radio systems used in the U.S are subject to being interrrupted by interference."

Marcus says inteference - intentional and accidental - is nothing new, regardless of whether the radios are analog FM, or the more recent APCO Project 25 digital format.

APCO P25 has become the standard of federal law enforcement, and used by Connecticut state police and a number of local departments including Meriden.

To keep ahead of any security problems, Marcus designs "special attributes" into his digital radio systems, which includes the Tait system used in Meriden, plus police radios in South Windsor and Weston.

"A Tait exclusive is a spectrum analyzer built into every base station receiver, where we can track interfering signals," Marcus said of the Meriden project.

He said other non-disclosed precautions have been taken for added radio security.

A veteran of the two-way business for more 40 years, Marcus said he was aware of the digital interference study last December, when an article was sent to him by the head of Kenwood's engineering department.

"I commented back to our national trade journal that the research was a waste of taxpayer money," he said.

The research paper, titled "Why Special Agent Johnny (Still) Can't Encrypt," found that the digital stream in P25 transmissions can be intentionally jammed by persons with the right technical knowledge and a modified external paging device.

Researchers also found problems with encrypted transmissions, which could occasionally be monitored in the clear under certain conditions.

Marcus points out that only sophisticated military communications radios have "hardened capabilities" and the bandwidth to resist jamming.

Meanwhile, the head of Meriden Emergency Communications is pleased with the city's new digital system, which for now is used by police only.

Frank Kiernan says the Tait 800 MHz radios which went on the air recently, are flexible and allow for future build-out.

"Our system hs been designed with expansion in mind," Kiernan said.

"We wanted a system that could be expandable without a 'forklift' upgrade, if we were to go to a trunked system" in the future, he said.

He is confident that Tait and Marcus Communcations can deal with any concerns raised by the APCO P25 research paper.