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A Security Analysis of the APCO Project 25 Two-Way Radio System

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Uploaded on Aug 11, 2011

Why (Special Agent) Johnny (Still) Can't Encrypt: A Security Analysis of the APCO Project 25 Two-Way Radio System

Refereed Paper presented by Matt Blaze (University of Pennsylvania) at the 20th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security '11), held August 8--12, 2011, in San Francisco, CA.

Awarded Outstanding Paper

Authors: Sandy Clark, Travis Goodspeed, Perry Metzger, Zachary Wasserman, Kevin Xu, and Matt Blaze, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract: APCO Project 25 ("P25") is a suite of wireless communications protocols used in the US and elsewhere for public safety two-way (voice) radio systems. The protocols include security options in which voice and data traffic can be cryptographically protected from eavesdropping. This paper analyzes the security of P25 systems against both passive and active adversaries. We found a number of protocol, implementation, and user interface weaknesses that routinely leak information to a passive eavesdropper or that permit highly efficient and difficult to detect active attacks. We introduce new selective subframe jamming attacks against P25, in which an active attacker with very modest resources can prevent specific kinds of traffic (such as encrypted messages) from being received, while emitting only a small fraction of the aggregate power of the legitimate transmitter. We also found that even the passive attacks represent a serious practical threat. In a study we conducted over a two year period in several US metropolitan areas, we found that a significant fraction of the "encrypted" P25 tactical radio traffic sent by federal law enforcement surveillance operatives is actually sent in the clear, in spite of their users' belief that they are encrypted, and often reveals such sensitive data as the names of informants in criminal investigations.

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