TETRA security enhancements under way

ETSI has begun work on the next generation of TETRA security features​ to ensure that the standard remains fully protected into the future against the rising levels of threats from cyber criminals. The enhancements will include additional encryption algorithms designed to resist cryptanalysis into the 2030s and beyond.

There have been many attempts to eavesdrop on or gain access to TETRA networks, but provided the networks are implemented according to the recommendations from TCCA’s Security and Fraud Prevention Group (SFPG), TETRA security has consistently blocked the attempts. With TETRA expected to provide mission critical communications for many years to come, ETSI will further enhance TETRA security to protect against cyber-attacks as technology continues to advance.

To meet the evolving needs of users, ETSI has continually developed and enhanced the TETRA standard. The standard now consists of more than 180 current technical specifications and reports, bringing the number of dedicated features and functions to more than 300.

TETRA continues to be deployed with provisional figures from IHS Markit showing that the TETRA market grew by nearly 7 per cent from 2017 to 2018, with a compounded annual growth rate of more than 6 per cent forecast from 2017 to 2022.

Brian Murgatroyd, Chair of ETSI Technical Committee TETRA and Critical Communications Evolution (TC TCCE) said: “After more than 25 years, TETRA remains the de facto choice for mission critical communications service. In the last few weeks alone, there have been announcements regarding TETRA implementations in Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Moldova, Portugal, Romania and Sweden, in addition to the extension to the Airwave service contract in the UK and the continued rollout of the world’s largest TETRA network in Germany.”

Maintaining the profile of the TETRA standard is the responsibility of TCCA’s TETRA Industry Group (TIG), comprised of TCCA member companies Airbus, DAMM, Etelm, Hytera, Leonardo, Motorola Solutions, Piciorgros, Rohill and Sepura.

“TIG provides a platform for discussion and collaboration within TCCA. TIG is committed to ensuring TETRA continues to be a multi-vendor standard that innovates, introduces new products and supports continued strong business development,” said Leonardo’s Francesco Pasquali, who chairs the Group.

Members of TIG will run the ‘TETRA – Today and Tomorrow’ Masterclass on 18 June during CCW2019 in Kuala Lumpur. The Group has also developed a paper detailing the strengths of TETRA, which can be accessed here together with TCCA’s Pocket Guides to TETRA in English, Portuguese and Spanish.

According to TCCA, TETRA's benefits are as follows:

  • With instant communication at its core, TETRA is designed for mission critical users. Call setup is almost immediate, and priority calls can be given pre-emptive status to ensure that they go through even when the network is busy. Short Data Service (SDS) messages are also delivered instantly, enabling emergency data communication.
  • Extensive geographical network radio coverage is fundamental, and TETRA networks are designed to be available even in sparsely populated areas such as rural, mountain or desert regions where there is usually no or insufficient service from commercial cellular networks.
  • A TETRA system is up and running as soon as the power is switched on, and resilience is ensured by a redundant TETRA system with instant switch-over. All power supplies, controllers etc. are duplicated, ensuring continuity of service.
  • TETRA networks are designed to fulfil availability levels – typically between 99.95 to 99.999% for operation of TETRA core and access components. Extra capacity can be activated automatically or on demand, for example to replace a failing TETRA base station transceiver or power supply. TETRA networks are designed and built to fulfil these mission critical requirements.
  • TETRA's security features are modular and complement each other to meet the security requirements of mission critical applications. They are an integral part of the standard, and guarantee security even when using devices and infrastructure from different manufacturers on the same network.
  • TETRA supports mission critical packet data, allowing data apps to function with the same security, resilience and coverage as TETRA voice calls.
  • TETRA base stations also support local fallback mode, allowing TETRA radio users to continue communication within the base station coverage area when no links are available to the core infrastructure. Specific TETRA features are developed to give base stations with network-wide coverage priority above isolated ones.
  • There are always circumstances, both planned and unplanned, when it is essential for mission critical users to operate outside network coverage. A full range of off-network services available in all standard TETRA devices enables users to retain key services. These include group calls, point to point calls, emergency calls and pre-emption, text messages and seamless security and encryption.