A group of cybersecurity researchers has uncovered what they believe is an intentional backdoor in encrypted radios used by police, military, and critical infrastructure entities around the world. The backdoor may have existed for decades, potentially exposing a wealth of sensitive information transmitted across them, according to the researchers. From a report: While the researchers frame their discovery as a backdoor, the organization responsible for maintaining the standard pushes back against that specific term, and says the standard was designed for export controls which determine the strength of encryption. The end result, however, are radios with traffic that can be decrypted using consumer hardware like an ordinary laptop in under a minute. “There’s no other way in which this can function than that this is an intentional backdoor,” Jos Wetzels, one of the researchers from cybersecurity firm Midnight Blue, told Motherboard in a phone call.
The research is the first public and in-depth analysis of the TErrestrial Trunked RAdio (TETRA) standard in the more than 20 years the standard has existed. Not all users of TETRA-powered radios use the specific encryption algorithim called TEA1 which is impacted by the backdoor. TEA1 is part of the TETRA standard approved for export to other countries. But the researchers also found other, multiple vulnerabilities across TETRA that could allow historical decryption of communications and deanonymization. TETRA-radio users in general include national police forces and emergency services in Europe; military organizations in Africa; and train operators in North America and critical infrastructure providers elsewhere.