USCG Encrypted Radio Traffic

VHF Marine Band radios, protocol, radio communication theory, practical advice; AIS; DSC; MMSI; EPIRB.
peteinsf
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USCG Encrypted Radio Traffic

Postby peteinsf » Tue Jul 26, 2016 3:35 pm

The thing I don't like about the Rescue 21 system is that all CG patrol traffic has relocated to the government portion of VHF and utilizes Project 25 (P25) digital voice. With that switch, VHF channels 21/22 have been used to only coordination with local government boats (or talking to the boat in distress [22])

When monitoring an actual rescue you now can't tell how far out the responding resources are unless you have a P25 radio and they happen to be in the non-encrypted mode.

My feeling is that during rescues, having the Coast Guard operating in a stealthy mode lowers the level of safety for the marine community. Coast Guard 9/11 thinking prevails.

Of course this is just an San Francisco area observation, maybe the Great Lakes are more open minded.

jimh
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Re: USCG Encrypted Radio Traffic

Postby jimh » Mon Aug 01, 2016 8:50 am

The Coast Guard was moved into the administration of the Department of Homeland Security some years ago, and following that change there has been a corresponding change in the mentality and spirit of the organization. It seems to think and act more like a waterborne police force now, unlike its rich history as a lifesaving and service organization devoted to marine safety. When you get boarded for no good reason by some 19-year-old kid in black boots and automatic pistol and grilled for identification papers it's not your grandfather's Coast Guard any more. That they've moved all their routine radio traffic to private encrypted channels just reflects their own view of their new mission.

[Updated August 4] Project 25 radios for the Coast Guard were probably part of the Rescue 21 project. I think all government and municipal mobile radio systems are moving to a digital modulation scheme like P25. Having some standardization like P25 may allow for better inter-operation among services when responding to emergencies. And, digital modulation can provide encryption. These digital modulation schemes mean that the radio audio can be sent via ip-data-networks. I think the Department of Homeland Security has built their own national digital network for communications--which is probably another billion-dollar investment.

jimh
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Re: USCG Encrypted Radio Traffic

Postby jimh » Thu Jan 19, 2017 10:32 am

peteinsf wrote:...When monitoring an actual rescue you now can't tell how far out the responding resources are unless you have a P25 radio and they happen to be in the non-encrypted mode.


Regarding the use of encryption with P25 radios, I recently listened to a TED TALK entitled "All your devices can be hacked" by Avi Rubin. He recounts reception of law enforcement traffic on P25 radio transmissions which were inappropriately sent without encryption. Compare at:

http://www.ted.com/talks/avi_rubin_all_ ... anguage=en

and the transcript at the 10:26 mark:

I'll show you two more. One is P25 radios. P25 radios are used by law enforcement and all kinds of government agencies and people in combat to communicate, and there's an encryption option on these phones....If you look closely at this device, it's got a switch for encryption or cleartext. Let me advance the slide, and now I'll go back. You see the difference? This is plain text. This is encrypted. There's one little dot that shows up on the screen, and one little tiny turn of the switch. And so the researchers asked themselves, "I wonder how many times very secure, important, sensitive conversations are happening on these two-way radios where they forget to encrypt and they don't notice that they didn't encrypt?"

So they bought a scanner. These are perfectly legal and they run at the frequency of the P25, and what they did is they hopped around frequencies and they wrote software to listen in. If they found encrypted communication, they stayed on that channel and they wrote down, that's a channel that these people communicate in, these law enforcement agencies, and they went to 20 metropolitan areas and listened in on conversations that were happening at those frequencies. They found that in every metropolitan area, they would capture over 20 minutes a day of cleartext communication. And what kind of things were people talking about? Well, they found the names and information about confidential informants. They found information that was being recorded in wiretaps, a bunch of crimes that were being discussed, sensitive information. It was mostly law enforcement and criminal. They went and reported this to the law enforcement agencies, after anonymizing it, and the vulnerability here is simply the user interface wasn't good enough. If you're talking about something really secure and sensitive, it should be really clear to you that this conversation is encrypted. That one's pretty easy to fix.


The whole TED TALK is available at http://www.ted.com/talks/avi_rubin_all_your_devices_can_be_hacked?language=en

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Don McIntyre - MI
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Re: USCG Encrypted Radio Traffic

Postby Don McIntyre - MI » Thu Jun 08, 2017 7:09 pm

Jim - Regarding your January post on P25 encryption:

Avi Rubin is assuming that all the P25 (preps, base, and mobile) radios are encryptable. Many of the Motorola radios that the State of Michigan allows on their statewide network either are not capable of that mode, or the additional encryption option was not ordered.

Regards - Don

jimh
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Re: RESCUE 21 Sites in the Great Lakes

Postby jimh » Tue Jun 13, 2017 11:45 pm

Hi Don--thanks for the information that the State of Michigan may not be using a P25 radio with encrypted digital modulation. That seems to precisely CONFIRM what Avi Rubin reported in the TED TALK article I mentioned, that is, that some agencies like law enforcement use P25 digital voice modulation without encryption.

Re use of P25 and encryption: those topics were introduced by PETEINSF, who apparently has observed, first hand, that the USCG does use P25 radios with encryption of voice when involved in rescue operations; see his post above.

P25 modulation and possible encryption of that modulation to prevent casual intercept by non-intended listeners is really not the focus of my article in RESCUE 21 Sites on the Great Lakes. The purpose of presenting information on RESCUE 21 Sites in the Great Lakes was to make readers aware of the very large number of sites, their locations, and the coverage area of each site. In the RESCUE 21 system communication with boaters in distress does not use P25 modulation or encryption.

peteinsf
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USCG Encrypted Radio Traffic

Postby peteinsf » Tue May 19, 2020 4:18 pm

With the COVAD-19 isolation, I have been in lockdown at Fort Niagara. Sadly the local Rescue 21 channel is 90-percent encrypted. Only the new 29-foot boat has its encrypt switch OFF.

All I hear is “29xxx Moored Station”.

I do get to watch them come and go, as my girl’s house is only 600yards from USCG station Niagara.

jimh
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Re: USCG Encrypted Radio Traffic

Postby jimh » Wed May 20, 2020 12:35 am

What VHF Marine Band Radio channel do you monitor?

Or, do you need a special P25 radio and knowledge of certain government frequencies?

peteinsf
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Re: USCG Encrypted Radio Traffic

Postby peteinsf » Wed May 20, 2020 9:32 am

A consumer receiver option would be a UNIDEN digital scanner

https://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/scanners.html

any of the BCD or SDS models.

What I use are surplus Motorola P25 radios from eBay (Astro Saber, Astro Spectra, XTS2500, XTS5000, XTL2500 or XTL5000) as I like to also use them as 2-meter amateur radio transmitters. These are the same models that the USCG used and currently uses. An eBay XTS5000 portable VHF can be as low as $100. (Basic radio, no display).

You do need to buy I $20 radio programming cable:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/352408158173 (Astro Spectra example)

And a USB-to-serial convertor; the Trip Lite KEYSPAN USA-19HS seems to work best.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0000VYJRY/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_OXsXEb77B6S0J

Most of the Rescue21 info can be found at

https://wiki.radioreference.com/index.php/United_States_Coast_Guard

Here at CG Station Niagara they use only AG109 173.100Mhz Back home in SF is CG124 and CG409 for the helicopters.

Have fun, I have been playing with surplus P25 radios since 1999, feel free to contact me with specific questions.

jimh
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Re: USCG Encrypted Radio Traffic

Postby jimh » Thu May 21, 2020 7:19 am

PETE—thanks for the information on how to monitor USCG radio traffic on their P25 VHF and UHF frequencies. A few years ago I was aboard a new 45-footer. I noticed the boat had additional non-VHF-Marine-Band radios for communication. The radios were Motorola brand.

The radio listener website seems to have very comprehensive information.

peteinsf
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Re: USCG Encrypted Radio Traffic

Postby peteinsf » Fri May 22, 2020 8:03 am

Yes, I have heard on many occasions where the Golden Gate station boats talk directly to the helicopters on CG409 a P25 UHF 400mhz channel. I suspect the installed model is a Motorola XTL5000 or the newer APX6500. From my monitoring in San Francisco 90% of the UHF traffic is aircraft talking to the sector dispatch with 15min position reports.

I know every Rescue21 site has a 400mhz channel.