Messaging | 2023-01-05

ASTRID Introduces Encryption for all Pagers

Source: The Critical Communications Review | Gert Jan Wolf editor

Unwanted individuals will no longer be aware of interventions, will no longer be able to spread information about them via social media, and will not be able to come to the scene to hinder the work of the emergency services.

For end user organizations in Belgium, until recently, encryption was only provided for new pagers. ASTRID, the operator of the Belgian public safety & critical communications network, now wants to extend that service to all TPL and Swissphone pagers that are in circulation. So, what are the advantages and how does it work?


Thanks to encryption, paging messages can only be read by the recipient of the message. The ASTRID server through which the message passes encrypts the message based on an algorithm and a key, so that it can only be decrypted by the legitimate recipient with the same algorithm and key. If the message is intercepted by a third party, they will only see an unreadable code.

Advantages
The encrypted messages provide the user with many advantages. It becomes perfectly safe to share operational information via paging. Unwanted individuals will no longer be aware of interventions, will no longer be able to spread information about them via social media, and will not be able to come to the scene to hinder the work of the emergency services. Moreover, it can save a considerable amount of time, because one paging message can suffice to share all the necessary information with the emergency services involved. Today, users circumvent security risks by sending a WhatsApp message or text message with operational details in addition to a concise paging message. With encryption, that multiple communication is no longer necessary.

Robust paging technology
The POCSAG paging network was rolled out by ASTRID twenty years ago at the request of the fire service. It is a robust in-house network with very high protection against power cuts and natural disasters. Over the years it has proven its usefulness in mission-critical interventions, especially for the relief zones that are partly dependent on the mobilization of volunteers. Over time, ASTRID has brought the coverage of the network, indoors and outdoors, to a very high level. At the request of users, ASTRID added encryption to its paging services a few years ago. Since then, encryption can be activated with new TPL or Swissphone pagers that are taken into use. But of course there are still a large number of 'old' pagers in circulation whose configuration has not yet been adjusted. In order to close that gap, ASTRID also wants to offer old pagers the option to integrate encryption in the coming month

Test project
In collaboration with the North Limburg emergency zone, ASTRID has launched a test project: a completely new numbering plan with encryption key has been assigned and is ready for use. After an initial evaluation of a few pagers, the adjustment to encrypted messages will be made for all pagers. ASTRID hopes that, as this Switch goes to press, the tests have gone well and the test project is evaluated positively so that they can take the step towards full encryption together at the beginning of 2023.

Call
ASTRID is convinced that the expansion of encryption for all pagers will greatly improve the operational functioning of the emergency zones in Belgium. That is why they encourage users to accept their invitation and equip all existing pagers with this technology in the course of 2023. Its implementation requires some coordination and planning from the IT managers of the zones. But there is no risk involved in the proper functioning of the pagers, and technically it is quite simple to perform. Moreover, there are no additional costs involved, as this ASTRID service is completely free.

Practical
For users who wish to switch, ASTRID provides a transition period in which old TPL or Swissphone pagers can be reprogrammed. During this period of several weeks ASTRID offer a simultaneous working solution.