Group announces successful test of multi-vendor MCPTT call with end-to-end security
Secure voice communications can be delivered using 3GPP’s mission-critical-push-to-talk (MCPTT) standard across solutions provided by multiple vendors, according to tests recently announced by Bittium, Athonet, Nemergent and the Mission Critical Open Platform (MCOP) project.
Fidel Liberal, coordinator for MCOP, said the testing—conducted this fall at the ETSI MCX plugtests event in Finland—is a big step for the MCPTT ecosystem.
“It’s really good news, because it’s something that the community was looking for,” Liberal said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “There has been some interoperability, but security was a missing piece.”
First responders using MCPTT can benefit from security provided at that LTE network layer, the IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) layer, and within the 3GPP standard for MCX—technology that includes MCPTT, MCData and MCVideo. While additional security at other layers is helpful, MCX security is designed to provide the necessary encryption or ciphering to ensure security of MCPTT communications independently, according to Liberal.
“MCX is self-contained,” Liberal said. “Of course, you will be using all of the underneath layers, but the standard defines how to deploy this without trusting anybody else. You don’t take anything for granted, so everything is secured again within MCX.
“So, if somebody breaks LTE security, and somebody else manages to break IMS security, you still have MCX security on top of that protecting the confidentiality, integrity, the certification and the identity of the communication. It is important to realize that MCX provides all of the tools to warranty all of the end-to-end, secure communication, without assuming that you cannot trust LTE, IMS, your telco provider or whatever.”
In the test conducted in Finland, 3GPP Release 14/15 compliant mechanisms were used to demonstrate the security capability, according to the press release announcing the results.
“The test … included MCOP’s SIM-based authentication, setting up security associations using IPsec between Bittium Tough Mobile 2 as the user equipment and Athonet’s IP Multimedia System (IMS) core, and Nemergent’s MCPTT standardized key exchange, authentication, service authorization, and ciphering mechanisms,” according to the press release.
“In order to have a fully end-to-end secure solution, the different vendors demonstrated interoperability at all the nodes involved in the communications chain (UE, LTE, IMS, KMS, IdMS, CMS, GMS, AS) and at the different 3GPP-defined message exchange protocols.”
Representatives of other vendors that participated in the testing expressed optimism about the results, which demonstrate that user can have access to secure MCX communications.
“This is a great achievement considering the whole mission-critical-communication community, and we are proud to have been part of the test with our secure Bittium Tough Mobile 2 smartphone,” Jari Sankala, Bittium’s senior vice president of defense and security, said in a prepared statement. “It is good to see that cybersecurity issues are gaining more and more importance also in the public-safety area.”
Liberal noted that various aspects of MCX security had been demonstrated previously, but the significance of this test was its end-to-end nature—a sentiment echoed by Jose Oscar Fajardo from Nemergent.
“We are proud of partnering once again with these pioneering companies; all together, we managed to show multi-vendor carrier-grade solutions going beyond niche interpretations of the 3GPP procedures,” Fajardo said in a prepared statement.
Daniele Munaretto, public-safety manager for Athonet, agreed.
“We are pleased to partner such visionary companies with our products and enable such an important milestone for MCPTT functionality,” Munaretto said in a prepared statement. “Athonet has supported all the ETSI MCPTT and MCX plugtests since inception with EPC, IMS and eMBMS solutions and is pleased to enable this important ‘first-time’ activity.”