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Don't Touch that Dial: Considerations When Using Satphones in Conflict Zones

By Carlton Purvis

Considering the types of areas satphones are generally deployed and their use in disaster and military operations, security is important for transmission. In a paper titled, Don’t Trust SatPhones, researchers from the Horst-Goertz Institute for IT Security found that encryption on satphone communication is “considerably weaker than what is state-of-the- art in symmetric cryptography.” The researchers were able to crack the phones’ algorithms using free firmware.

Small World News recommends keeping transmissions as short as possible --under three minutes. Radio transmission from satphones can be easily triangulated using cheap and often homemade tools. Countries with advanced technical security are likely to have devices that can detect the signals and less developed states, and even non-state actors, may be able to develop the capacity. Many satphones rely on encryption, but governments may be able to defeat the encryption. Thuraya encryption, for example, has been broken. Because of this, Small World News says users should never share personal, life threatening, or critical information via satellite – and if necessary, speak in code.

E-mails and text messages may be faster and more convenient than phone calls, but it’s more likely that these messages will be intercepted. When a text message is sent from a satphone there is no secure encryption. “Do not transmit sensitive information via SMS unless you are willing to have it read by the authorities. If the SMS is intercepted, it is likely to be recorded and the encryption broken at a later date, if not immediately,” the guide states. Locating a phone's GPS location is less likely with texting than voice calls though because of the short duration of the transmission.

The latter parts of the guide provide instructions on how to clear information on satphones and the pros and cons of different brands.

Click below to download the free guide.


photo by jurvetson/flickr
 

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