What's the Difference Between Basic and Enhanced Privacy for Two Way Radios?

Updated 12/2020


What's the Difference Between Basic and Enhanced Privacy for Two Way Radios? 


Keep Your Conversations Private

We want to know who is listening to our conversations. It's only natural. We confide in those we trust, and we trust those people not to go around breaking our confidence. Communicating over a two way radio can feel all too familiar to sharing those old secrets with friends. A lot of times the information may not be defaming, or all that important, but you would still like assurance that only those who you trust are listening.

This is why you chose to shop for a more advanced radio system instead of going to your local supermarket and grabbing a handful of cheap two way radios.

Private encryption can come in a few ways. There is Basic Privacy, Enhanced Privacy, and the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). For today's purposes, we are going to talk about Basic and Enhanced Privacy.

We are leaving out AES is because that is strictly a P25, or Public Safety Radio standard, which we at Radio Depot do not deal in. The only things we offer for the P25 two way radio market are compatible accessories for those models.

Most of your Mototrbo devices are going to support both Basic and Enhanced Privacy programming, with the entry-level models tending to only support Basic privacy functions and sometimes neither. This is largely due to the firmware capabilities needed to support the more advanced privacy functions that come with Enhanced over Basic Privacy.

Let's break it down!


What Do I Get With Basic Privacy?

Basic Privacy is a function you can have programmed into your two way radio devices to help keep the conversations with your team more secure. While this level of privacy application will be able to deter the 'casual listener' from eavesdropping on your communications, it won't be secure against a direct hack attack.

note: Even if you are able to hack into a conversation, cool good for you, but that is illegal under FCC regulations and you may be susceptible to fines and/or time behind bars.

The security given by enabling Basic Privacy is almost like a digital version of voice inversion scrambling used in analog systems. While the information may not be readily available, with a little bit of effort the code can be cracked leaving your data insecure.

When your radio is being programmed for Basic Privacy, you will choose 1 16-bit key from 255 predefined keys available. The Basic Privacy function will not allow you to have different keys for different channels, meaning your entire operating frequency will need to use the same 16-bit key to function properly. If you are acquiring new radios for a preexisting fleet, you would need to send in at least one radio from your current stock in order for its programming to be cloned for the new two way radios.

This is vital because all two way radios wanting to hear the message sent in a Basic Privacy application will have to use the same 16-bit key chosen in order to hear the scrambled message. If someone is trying to listen in but does not have the right key, they will hear only garbled audio.

What Do I Get With Enhanced Privacy?

For those looking to keep your communications even more secure, you should take the route of Enhanced Privacy. Enhanced Privacy is designed to protect your data from those direct attacks by hackers.

You could think of this type of encryption as being closer to analog 'rolling code' scrambling where a new code is split at random, or seemingly random, times for each and every transmission.

Motorola has made it so that every transmission which is turned into 'data', is given a different 'packet' that it travels in, keeping your information very secure. This type of encryption is not going to be 'broken' by your typical basement hacker, though if you've done something to piss off the CIA, Enhanced Privacy can't save you.

You should know that some users have reported a slight delay in transmission when using Enhanced Privacy. This is because the software is taking your data and creating those 'packets' to send which the receiving unit will then have to unpack to be heard. This delay is very minimal but can be noticed if you are used to a system that does not utilize any privacy applications.

Like Basic, in order to get Enhanced Privacy, you would need to have it programmed into the two way radios at purchase. Unlike Basic, Enhanced Privacy is a feature that would only come with buying a premium software upgrade for your two way radios. What's nice about this is you will get several other top-of-the-line features with your Enhanced Privacy that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to, such as Bluetooth capabilities and Enhanced Noise Cancellation depending on your two way radio model. What's not so nice is you cannot buy JUST Enhanced Privacy, it is only offered within the Premium Software Upgrade Bundle and these services must be 're-upped' every 5 years. Every perk has its catch, right?

The Enhanced Privacy function keeps your data safe by using a 40-bit encryption key in the RC4 algorithm instead of the 16-bit key used in Basic. Another thing that differentiates Enhanced from Basic Privacy is that the user is able to have multiple keys programmed into their two way radios. Also, the keys you select can be channel-specific, meaning you can easily switch between privacy keys by simply changing the channel on the radio and you can store up to 16 different keys, 1 for every channel. Something to keep in mind is that while all voice and data calls are encoded, signaling and control messages are not so others may be able to listen in on those.

Bring it Home

We hope this quick breakdown of what you get with different privacy functions will empower you to make the best choice for your needs as you shop for your next two way radios. At Radio Depot we want you to feel like the expert, being able to express why some features are better for your situation than others instead of feeling like you should just agree with what is being told to you.

When in doubt remember:

Basic Privacy

- Lower tier privacy function
- Won't protect your data against a direct attack
- 16-bit security key
- Must program the same key into all channels on all radios to work properly
- Provides weaker guarantees in exchange for not impeding performance

Enhanced Privacy

- More Secure Privacy Function
- You can choose different privacy keys for different channels for extra security
- 40-bit security key
- Creates 'packets' for your data for every transmission keeping your information safe
- The 'packets' process may affect the speed of transmissions
- Cannot be purchased alone, comes included in the software upgrade package

As always, if you have any questions that we didn't cover or are curious to know more you can leave a comment below, give us a call at (888) 733-7681, or fill out our contact form and we will be happy to help.

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