Walkie talkies, also know as two way radios, have become an essential tool for many people in a variety of industries but how secure are these lines of communication? Some industries don’t really need to worry about whether they are able to be tracked or hacked, but for others it is an issue of great concern. In order to look into this question, we need to take a little dive into how exactly these radios work.
Also known as a transceiver – a formation of the words “transmit” and “receive”- two way radios allow for bi-directional communication. Even as two way radios are fundamentally a type of radio, they could differ from one to another. These differences are based on factors like size, manufacturer, features, etc.
Based on the size, the different two way radios available are stationary, usually stationed in a base station; mobile, usually vehicle-mounted; and handheld portable ones. These handheld portable two way radios are referred to as “walkie talkie.” Other names they have are “hand helds” and “handie talkies” or HT for short.
Since the initial design and production of the first walkie talkie, many more walkie talkies are now being produced by different manufacturers. These include Motorola, credited for making the “first handheld walkie talkie,” Icom, Hyetra, and Entel among others.
There is a difference based on use. In this case, while the walkie talkies being used could primarily be similar, the function they serve, or the setting in which they are used, make the difference. For instance, if security operatives use these, they can be regarded as Security Walkie Talkies or security radios. If they are used in the bar and restaurant industry, they are referred to as Hospitality Walkie Talkies. Similarly to this, there are Walkie Talkies for Building Sites and Construction.
Different types of two-way radios have various features, especially by manufacturer design. These features include Vox, that is, voice activation, which allows for automatic broadcasting when you, the user, speak in the walkie talkie’s direction but have your hands occupied. There are also the pre-set calling tones and keypad lock features, among others. Despite these different features, however, some things are similar to all walkie talkies.
1. Antenna: this allows for the transmission and reception of radio waves
2. Loudspeaker: this allows for the reception of messages transmitted over the channel
3. Microphone: this allows a user on the channel send messages to others on the same channel
4. Push-to-Talk button, PTT: this button allows anyone who wants to speak across the channel do so. As walkie talkies are usually always in “receive” mode, they are programmed to receive messages being relayed on the channel by default. When you press this PTT button, however, you can relay a message across the channel to other receivers
5. The use of radio waves.
As their name suggests, two way radios work with radio frequency. People who want to talk to one another must be tuned to the same frequency, commonly known as channel. Practically, a two way radio consists of a receiver and a transmitter. The antenna helps the transmitter create radio waves through which a message is sent. The receiver, on the other hand, receives these waves and relays the information carried on them. Two-way radios operate on many frequencies. Because of the limited number of frequencies available, especially in busy places like resorts, available channels/frequencies can get used up. To work around this, many radios have provision for users to access a busy main channel via codes named privacy or interference-elimination codes. These codes allow for more transmission among a more extensive yet diverse group of users, with each group having their private information. To ensure that the message being transmitted is received by the receiver it was intended for, a tuner included in the receiver helps work through the different frequency signals for the preferred one.
These channels over which communication via a two way radio occurs help to answer the question, “can walkie talkie be tracked or hacked?” A walkie talkie not being used can hardly be tracked or hacked. However, if the transmission is going on, these can be more easily done. This is because radio waves give signals that can be observed and even monitored. Concerns regarding if a walkie talkie can be hacked or tracked can be concerning the information being transmitted getting divulged or the location from which the transmission is done being known.
Information being transmitted via a walkie talkie is very likely to be divulged to an unintended recipient if this person tunes his walkie talkie into the channel over which the previously private communication is being done. This way, such a person is privy to information that wasn’t meant for him. Unless done intentionally, however, this hardly counts for hacking.
While figuring out someone’s exact location might not be easily done, a usually correct estimate of the area from which a walkie talkie is being used can be gotten from a knowledge of the radio frequencies over which the transmission is happening. This is harder, yet possible still, when the walkie talkie, like the user, is in motion. If both, or all, persons on the channel are actively transmitting messages over the channel, then the area from which the walkie talkies are operating can be triangulated. This then allows for a higher chance of the locations, especially if stationary, being more accurately determined.
Knowing who can track or hack a walkie talkie is also beneficial to knowing if these can be done. According to The Data Protection Acts 1988-2018, you are entitled to privacy of personal data. Under this act, Ireland’s Data Control department, if privy to information transmitted over the channel or the location from where this is sent and received, has the legal responsibility to do the following:
- Obtain and process data lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner;
- Keep it only for one or more specified and explicit lawful purpose(s);
- Process it only in ways compatible with the purpose of which it was given initially;
- Keep data accurate, relevant and not excessive;
- Retain it no longer than is necessary for the specified purpose or purposes;
- Keep personal data safe and secure.
Outside of these provisions, any other attempt to track or hack a walkie talkie is not permissible by law. This means that anyone else trying to hack your walkie talkie, or the information being relayed, is doing so illegally.
What can you do to minimize the chances of your walkie talkie being tracked or hacked?
There are some things you can do. You can reduce the frequency of transmission across the channel as more transmission increases the chances of being tracked. With a reduced frequency of communication on the channel, both information and location are better secured. While eliminating transmission on the channel would have been good advice, you really wouldn’t have a walkie talkie if you don’t plan on using it, would you?
Another thing you can do is to use a digital walkie talkie over an analogue one. This assertion is based on this infographic which highlights that a digital walkie talkie allows for more secure communication over an analogue one.
Licensed walkie talkies have their own private frequency that they work off, so only those with the correct frequency are able to access the communication. This reduces the chances of cross-talk or someone overhearing your conversations. This is why certain industries, where accurate and clear communication is a matter of safety, such as crane operators or oil and gas industries, only used licensed radios.
Whether your preference for a walkie talkie is determined by size, manufacturer, features, intended use, or even aesthetics, we offer choice selections of retail walkie talkies. If you are still concerned about whether or not your walkie talkie can be tracked or hacked, speak to us, and we can advise on how to eliminate the chances of this tracking or hacking happening. With over 20 years of experience, we pride ourselves on providing the best equipment for the job. Choice Communications Ireland are also available on Facebook, so send us a message there and we will get back to you straight away.