Encryption and Amateur Radio

Why would anyone want to use encryption on ham radio? comment below.
That said, there has never been any expectation of privacy for communications under amateur license.

In Canada, from what Industry Canada has said, it is legal to use encryption on the amateur frequencies as long as you use a key that is published. If you don't make the key available to everyone, you can't encrypt.

Interesting how Canada and the US are different on encryption in the ham bands. What's ironic, is that if the encryption key is publicly available to anyone/everyone, doesn't that negate the purpose of encryption? That's like putting a sign on your front door that says "Door is locked so that no one may enter. There is a spare key under the door mat. Come on in."

Since Amateur Radio is not designed to be a private means of communication, why would anyone need/want to use encryption in the ham bands, except for experimentation? No answer needed, that was a rhetorical question, and one that has been beaten to death.

Why do we want this stuff on amateur radio bands?

Some Terms:

  • Encoder - An encoder is a device, circuit, transducer, software program, algorithm or person that converts information from one format or code to another, for the purposes of standardization, speed, secrecy, security or compressions.
  • Encryption - In cryptography, encryption is the process of encoding messages (or information) in such a way that only authorized parties can read it.
  • Authentication - Authentication is the act of confirming the truth of an attribute of a datum or entity.

USA: Encryption on my Part 97 has and would serve many of the same purposes of encryption on Part 15.

Interoperability with existing well-proven and widely-deployed protocols like SSH and HTTPS would be dandy, and these protocols use encryption. Additionally, authentication could be used to prevent unauthorized access to resources like repeaters, radio-bbs, and parts of AMPRNet.


What follows is an overview of the relevant technology and rules, as well as some of the arguments for and against, and some of my notes.

It is prohibited in the US, with one exception. One is allowed to encrypt commands to an amateur satellite (Send from the ground to the satellite). Aside from that, encryption is prohibited.


From the terms and conditions spelt out by OFCOM (pdf), the UK communications regulator.
Alternately, in the license guidelines:

FCC Considering Proposal For Encrypted Ham Radio
from the technocrat-perspective dept.

Bruce Perens writes
FCC is currently processing a request for rule-making, RM-11699 (PDF), that would allow the use of Amateur frequencies in the U.S. for private, digitally-encrypted messages. Encryption is a potential disaster for ham radio because it defeats its self-policing nature. If hams can't decode messages, they can't identify if the communication even belongs on ham radio. A potentially worse problem is that encryption destroys the harmless nature of Amateur radio.There's no reason for governments to believe that encrypted communications are harmless. See hams.com/encryption/ for more information.

Encryption and Amateur Radio
Introduction
There's been some debate in the last ten years or so about encryption's purpose in ham radio. The part 97 rules prohibit "messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning, except as otherwise provided herein;".

In Data Encryption Is Legal, CQ magazine, August 2006 issue, Don Rotolo, N2IRZ, tries to make the case that if encryption is used to comply with another Part 97 rule, then the purpose of the encoding is not to obscure the meaning of the message, but to secure a repeater from unauthorized use, and so the encryption is incidental.

In the ARRL's response to RM-11699, states, "the ability to encrypt for the purpose of authentication of users in a data network, as discussed below, appears to be permissible, and the current Section 97.113(a)(4) has not been determined (to date) to inhibit HSMM/ wireless broadband experimentation in the Amateur Radio Service." The whole document is a pretty good read, and touches on a lot of related topics.


Conclusion:
Encryption on amateur radio is prohibited in most countries. There are some exceptions, in some countries, and for some specific use cases. You'll need to consult your local rules.

Some countries (Australia being an example) allow encryption in emergency communicationsand relevant training activities.

Some countries (US, for example) allow encryption for transmitting control commands to satellites, so that unauthorized stations can be prevented from causing harm to the satellite.

Some protocols used in digital networking (IPSEC, SSL/TLS) allow you to disable traffic encryption (using a "none" cipher), but still use cryptographic algorithms such as HMAC to do strong authentication and tampering prevention. Doing that does not conceal the contents of the traffic, so it's allowed, and sufficient for many use cases such as remote commands to satellites, or other restricted-access services.

Don N2IRZ wrote an article in CQ Magazine's August 2006 edition which made the case that data encryption is legal when it is used for the purpose of preventing unauthorized access. The context he's referring to is when using modified commercial WiFi routers which have channels that overlap with the amateur band (e.g. HSMM-Mesh/Broadband-Hamnet) and preventing part 15 users from joining part 97 mesh networks through the use of encrypted passwords such as WPA/WEP.

I'm not sure if his logic has held up in light of the recent FCC dismissal of a rulemaking petition to provide an exception for encryption for during disaster/public service operations, but it is an interesting read.

Stupid DMR encryption question



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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous01:09

    "Why would anyone want to use encryption on ham radio? comment below."

    Because the internet generation lack judgement when it comes to intercepting communications and divulging information on social media platforms (twitter, facebook) and streaming such communications on mobile apps.

    Reference the Radiocommunication Act:

    9(1.1) Except as prescribed, no person shall make use of or divulge a radio-based telephone communication

    (a) if the originator of the communication or the person intended by the originator of the communication to receive it was in Canada when the communication was made; and

    (b) unless the originator, or the person intended by the originator to receive the communication consents to the use or divulgence.

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