Quantum Tech

ETSI secures critical infrastructures against attacks

8th November 2022
Beth Floyd

ETSI secured critical infrastructures against cyber quantum attacks with new TETRA algorithms.

With the world facing growing challenges including the war in Europe and a global energy crisis, it is essential that the mission- and business-critical communications networks used by the public safety, critical infrastructure and utilities sectors (including transportation, electricity, natural gas and water plants) are secured against third-party attacks, to protect communications and sensitive data. With more than 120 countries using dedicated TETRA (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) networks for these critical services, work has been undertaken to ensure the ETSI TETRA technology standard remains robust in the face of evolving threats.

To adapt to technology innovations and potential cybersecurity attacks, including from quantum computers, the ETSI technical committee (the TCCE) has completed work on new algorithms designed to secure TETRA networks for at least the next 20 years. These new specifications, ETSI TS 100 392-7 and ETSI TS 100 396-6 have been developed in close collaboration with experts from the ETSI quantum safe cryptography group.

This work was carried out with the support of TCCA, the global representative organisation responsible for the enhancement of the TETRA standard. Demand for TETRA technology will continue to increase at a CAGR of 4.7% in the 2021-2026 forecast period, according to Omdia.

TETRA is widely used by public safety agencies around the world as, in addition to secure and resilient network communications it also offers direct peer-to-peer critical communications without the need for a supporting network in situations such as natural disasters and emergencies. Nations want to deploy networks shared by all public safety organisations and first responders to fully interoperate with other services during emergency situations and disasters. The transportation market is also a large market for TETRA, especially for Mass Rapid Transport systems, such as the London Underground network, and the Parisian metro network managed by RATP, and many major airports. 

Technical details

TETRA is a digital Private Mobile Radio (PMR) and Public Access Mobile Radio (PAMR) technology for critical communications with a specific set of communication requirements. These include high reliability, single and group calling capabilities, PTT (Push-To-Talk), and the possibility for direct peer-to-peer communications. TETRA is optimised for medium to high capacity applications by utilising Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) technology.

Some unique PMR services of TETRA include:

  • Wide area fast call set-up 'all informed net' group calls
  • Direct Mode Operation (DMO) allowing 'back to back' communications between radio terminals independent of the network
  • High level voice encryption to meet the security needs of public safety organisations
  • An Emergency Call facility that gets through even if the system is busy
  • Full duplex voice for PABX and PSTN telephony communications

“It is vital to keep the TETRA cryptography updated with the latest cybersecurity algorithms when you realise the variety of sensitive organisations and applications TETRA systems serve. The EU Parliament and Commission for instance use a secure TETRA system to protect their building and communication networks, a scenario where failure or security compromise is unthinkable,” said Brian Murgatroyd, Chair of ETSI TCCE committee.

“This upgrade of the TETRA standard confirms and reinforces the efforts of the TETRA industry community to support TETRA as the optimal mission critical communication technology for the long-term future,” said Francesco Pasquali, Chair of TCCA’s TETRA Industry Group (TIG) and TCCA Board Member. “Our commitment to maintaining TETRA’s outstanding and unrivalled level of security is essential, especially in a continuously evolving and challenging context where new cyber threats are coming not only from isolated cybercrime actors, but from organised hostile countries.“

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