Over the years there’s been many stories in the mainline press about the dangers of radio scanners, usually bought about by some celebrities private conversations being eavesdropped on or the use of a scanner to commit a crime.

Although these stories are normally classed as pure sensationalism (what else could they be?), they do seem to be getting farther and farther apart. Does this mean that radio scanners are not the problem they used to be or that the media doesn’t consider them a newsworthy item anymore?.

NYPD police car

What is totally left out of these sensational reports is the fact that radio scanners have been around for a long time, even if these where the basic types where you needed an individual crystal for each channel. This made the sets very limited in the amount of channels you could host in one unit and if you wanted to change frequency it meant sourcing a brand new crystal.

These limitations don’t apply to modern synthesized scanners and the even more flexible new software defined radio technology, making them a potential problem for the privacy and security of radio transmissions.

The Move to Secure Systems

The switch over to encrypted radio systems has been underway for a long time with the most public transfer being the continuing battle in the United States over the right to listen to emergency services transmissions (amongst others).

Despite the best efforts of organizations opposed to the change and even a few private individuals, the switch to encrypted radio traffic is moving along swiftly.

This in itself has to downgrade the radio scanner and those who use them as a security risk, by the decreased volume of listeners alone!.

The Game has Changed

The worry about having an encrypted channel that only intended users can monitor has now shifted across to the systems all the sensitive transmissions have moved too. No longer is it only necessary to build a radio that will simply receive a desired frequency but also supply a way of decoding the encrypted transmissions.

Many people think that the term hacker is solely based around messing with computers via the internet or other mediums but this isn’t always the case. A hacker deals with data in whatever form that may be and once you understand that the new systems deal with encrypted data transmissions, then to a hacker its just another challenge like any other.

There have been attempts on and rumors about the so called safety of the protocols now used by millions of radio users, who rightly believe they’re every word is completely secure.

There was an excellent (if highly technical) article about some of the potential flaws in the most widely used encryption systems that I read a few months back and I intended to link to it from this point, but for the life of me I can’t find it on the Internet anymore 🙂

If I happen across it in the future I will add the link.

Our Reliance on Trunking Systems

Trunking has changed the way that base to mobile radio is used and allows even smaller organizations access to a reliable wide area communications system that they could never setup on their own.

Trunking also gives a great advantage to the radio scanner user by delivering a well ordered selection of radio signals at the touch of a button, but this convenience could very well lead to big headaches for both user and the industry that produces radio scanners.

Recently I’ve been trying to find some hard data on how the move to secure trunking is impacting the sales of the new breed of radios scanners from the likes of Uniden and Whistler.

After some digging I’ve discovered it’s not easy to judge how things are going within what is such a small consumer market and I fear it may be too earlier to tell how this will effect sales (and new products) in the future.

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