Deutsche Telekom upgrades domestic voice encryption

Operator group Deutsche Telekom has increased the security for voice transmissions in its German network in a bid to better protect its subscribers from eavesdropping. The operator has deployed the A5/3 encryption standard for voice transmission, which is currently being rolled out nationwide. The full implementation of the technology is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The technology has already been implemented in Deutsche Telekom’s networks in Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland and the Czech Republic.

“Consumer trust in telecommunications and the internet has taken a heavy hit in recent weeks, due to the NSA revelations,” said Thomas Kremer, the DT board member responsible for data privacy, legal affairs and compliance. “We are doing all we can to provide better security for our customers. Improved encryption of mobile phone conversations is another important step in this direction.”

Deutsche Telekom subscribers do not need to do anything to encrypt their voice calls; it will be enabled automatically for transmissions between the handset and the base station, the operator said.

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“With the new A5/3 standard, encryption in the GSM network is now stronger; the new algorithm is considered secure,” Deutsche Telekom added in a statement. It said that similar encryption levels are used in its UMTS and LTE networks. The GSM network previously implemented the A5/1 encryption standard, the operator said, however experts have now cracked that encryption.

In order to implement the A5/3 standard, the operator installed new hardware and software at approximately 30,000 base stations and central network nodes across Germany.

It said that a major challenge it faced during the upgrade is that around 50,000 older mobile phones still in use in the country do not support the new encryption standard.  Deutsche Telekom developed and tested a custom software solution to ensure that these customers do not suddenly find themselves without reception. All phone models will remain functional, however calls on older phone models will still be encrypted with the A5/1 standard, Deutsche Telekom said.

This summer, Deutsche Telekom and German ISP United Internet implemented encryption of e-mails sent between customers of the two partner companies. The German government has also been vocal in its opposition to the wiretapping of its citizens from other governments. Last month, the German and Brazilian governments introduced a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly calling for internationally recognised rights to privacy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel allegedly was spied on by US agency the NSA and has demanded that the US government give Germany clarity over the future of the NSA in the country. A recent survey in Germany commissioned by public broadcaster ARD and daily newspaper Die Welt also revealed that Germans’ trust in the US has plummeted, with only a third saying they view the country a trustworthy partner.

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