ETSI Releases New Algorithms to Secure TETRA Networks
Tuesday, November 08, 2022 | Comments

With the world facing growing challenges including the war in Europe and a global energy crisis, it is essential that the mission- and business-critical communications networks used by the public safety, critical infrastructure and utilities sectors are secured against third-party attacks, to protect communications and sensitive data. With more than 120 countries using dedicated TETRA networks for these critical services, work has been undertaken to ensure the TETRA technology standard remains robust in the face of evolving threats.

To adapt to technology innovations and potential cybersecurity attacks, including from quantum computers, ETSI’s TETRA and Critical Communications Evolution (TCCE) technical committee completed work on new algorithms designed to secure TETRA networks for at least the next 20 years. These new specifications, ETSI TS 100 392-7 and ETSI TS 100 396-6 have been developed in close collaboration with experts from the ETSI quantum safe cryptography group.

“It is vital to keep the TETRA cryptography updated with the latest cybersecurity algorithms when you realize the variety of sensitive organizations and applications TETRA systems serve,” said ETSI TCCE Committee Chair Brian Murgatroyd. “The EU Parliament and Commission for instance use a secure TETRA system to protect their building and communication networks, a scenario where failure or security compromise is unthinkable.”

This work was carried out with the support of TCCA, the global representative organization responsible for the enhancement of the TETRA standard. Demand for TETRA technology will continue to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.7% in the 2021-2026 forecast period, according to Omdia.

“This upgrade of the TETRA standard confirms and reinforces the efforts of the TETRA industry community to support TETRA as the optimal mission critical communication technology for the long-term future,” said Francesco Pasquali, chair of TCCA’s TETRA Industry Group (TIG) and TCCA board member. “Our commitment to maintaining TETRA’s outstanding and unrivalled level of security is essential, especially in a continuously evolving and challenging context where new cyber threats are coming not only from isolated cybercrime actors, but from organized hostile countries.“

TETRA is widely used by public-safety agencies around the world as, in addition to secure and resilient network communications, it also offers direct peer-to-peer critical communications without the need for a supporting network in situations such as natural disasters and emergencies. Nations want to deploy networks shared by all public-safety organizations and first responders to fully interoperate with other services during emergency situations and disasters. The transportation market is also a large market for TETRA, especially for Mass Rapid Transport systems, such as the London Underground network, and the Parisian metro network managed by RATP, and many major airports.

“These new air interface encryption algorithms will support TETRA into the foreseeable future,” said Dave Chater-Lea, vice chair of the ETSI TCCE committee. “They are designed to withstand brute force attack beyond the year 2040 even if quantum computers become a viable means of attack, with new over-the-air key management algorithms and authentication keys to further strengthen the security of the standard.”

TETRA is a digital private mobile radio (PMR) and public access mobile radio (PAMR) technology for critical communications with a specific set of communication requirements. These include high reliability, single and group calling capabilities, push to talk and the possibility for direct peer-to-peer communications. TETRA is optimized for medium-to-high capacity applications by utilizing TDMA technology.

Some unique PMR services of TETRA include wide-area fast call setup; direct mode operation (DMO), allowing "back-to-back" communications between radio terminals independent of the network; high-level voice encryption to meet the security needs of public-safety organizations; an emergency call facility that gets through even if the system is busy; and full-duplex voice for private automatic branch exchange (PABX) and private switched telephone network (PSTN) telephony communications.

“It is also important to note that TETRA meets the requirements of the military, and now more than ever, as there is both an increase in modern warfare technologies and a growing need for real-time information in operations,” said Jukka Vialen, vice chair of the ETSI TCCE committee. “At the same time, TETRA is key for peace keeping for the United Nations to improve the security of strategic and tactical communications.”

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