RMS Express – Secure email over Amateur Radio

by M.D. Creekmore on June 25, 2012 · 8 comments

This guest post is by Ridge G and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

Please understand that I do not profess to be an authority on the following information.  My intent is to share my personal experience with the RMS Express software, the Tigertronics SignaLink USB unit and the WL2K WinLink 2000 system in a relatively non-technical manner.  This combination of free software and inexpensive equipment added to your existing Amateur Radio station will allow you to send and receive encrypted email over your radio, independent of the internet if necessary.  From a survivalist or prepper’s standpoint, the encrypted security provided by this system goes a long way toward easing the concerns of many regarding their personal security or OPSEC (Operational Security) when transmitting voice or data “in the clear” over Amateur Radio.

The WL2K Winlink 2000 system is comprised of a worldwide network of Mail Box Operator (MBO) Amateur radio stations which are largely monitored 24/7.  The Winlink system is free of charge to all Amateur users.  When you send a message into this system in the form of an email to a Winlink address (e.g. n3juy@winlink.org), it is instantly distributed system wide via the internet, where it can then be retrieved by the recipient from practically anywhere in the world through the WL2K radio system.  Additionally if your message is addressed to a typical internet based email address (e.g. soandso@whatever.com), it will be delivered as normal email directly to the recipient’s email inbox.  As an added benefit, should the internet ever go down in a TSHTF scenario, the Winlink system has the capability of linking MBO stations together by radio.

RMS Express is an email over radio application that looks and feels very similar to any generic email application (re: inbox, outbox, etc.).  RMS Express coupled with the SignaLink USB interface generates the WINMOR mode, the encrypted data protocol which is sent out over the air.  RMS Express is available free of charge.  There is a one-time registration fee of $39 for WINMOR, but it is not mandatory.  If you choose not to register, you will simply see the following message screen each time you log on:

This is a reminder that you should register your copy of the WINMOR TNC. It is not necessary to register to use WINMOR; just click the “Remind me later” button, and you can proceed. However, it is well worth a $39 donation to the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation to support that organization and obtain a registration key for WINMOR that will suppress this screen.

RMS Express also has the capability of linking two or more stations together peer-to-peer, independent of the WL2K Winlink network or the internet, providing an even higher level of privacy.

The SignaLink USB interface is required to connect your computer to your radio and contains its own sound.  The unit connects to your computer with a single USB cable.  The SignaLink is powered by your computer’s USB port, so it does not require an additional power source.  A single cable connects the SignaLink to your radio, either through the mic jack or the radio’s back panel accessory port.  I purchased my SignaLink USB (comes with USB cable only), the correct cable to connect the SignaLink to my Icom 706 MkIIG, and a plug and play module for the SignaLink which eliminated my having to think about the proper configuration of the jumpers for my particular radio – I need stuff like that these days – from DX Engineering for a total of $121.06, including shipping.

Setup is extremely simple.  It is truly “plug and play” vs. “shrug and pray”.  The installation instructions included with the SignaLink are concise and easy to follow.  I’m guessing I was on the air in about an hour, start to finish.  Below I have listed a few links to instructions and tutorials which you might find useful.

Please note:  The sound card configuration instructions that come with the SignaLink USB are for Windows XP.  If you are running Windows 7, as I am, or Vista (my condolences) please especially see the link below to avoid confusion.

In closing, I think it’s important to consider that in an emergency situation having access to accurate and timely information can be vital to your survival.  Hunkering down in a remote location is all fine and good until one day said location comes under siege.  Wouldn’t it be advantageous to know if and when the bad guys are coming?  And trust me, they are coming!  It might also be nice to have the ability to keep abreast of the whereabouts and wellbeing of those about whom you care.

Be particular..  RR

Pertinent Links:

http://www.tigertronics.com/ - Tigertronics – Manufacturers of SignaLink

http://www.winlink.org/ClientSoftware – RMS Express

http://www.winlink.org/webfm_send/184 - An excellent tutorial by Phil Sherrod W4PHS

http://www.tigertronics.com/sl_suprt.htm – Windows 7 and Vista setup instructions

This contest will end on August 7 2012 – prizes include:

First Place : 1 Year Subscription to AlertsUSA, 1 Radiation Safety Package consisting of the following;  (1) NukAlert Radiation Monitor and Alarm (5) Radsticker Peel and Stick Dosimeters (1) Box Thyro Safe Potassium Iodide. All courtesy of AlertsUSA. A $150 gift certificate for Federal Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo. And a British Berkefeld water fillter system courtesy of  LPC Survival. A total prize value of over $700.

Second Place : A six pack Entrée Assortment courtesy of Augason Farms, a Nukalert courtesy of Shepherd Survival Supply and a WonderMill Grain Mill courtesy of Kitchen Kneads. A total prize value of over $550.

Third Place : A copy of each of my books “31 Days to Survival” and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of The Survivalist Blog dot Net and “Kelly McCann’s Inside the Crucible Set” courtesy of Paladin Press. A total prize value of over $200.

Contest ends on August 7 2012.

8 comments

An Actual Ham June 25, 2012 at 10:43 am

Uhh, no. If this guy is an amateur, I cannot fathom how he got his ticket (a General class, if he’s playing on HF) without knowing that encrypted traffic on amateur radio is strictly verboten.

The exception is the use of digital or other scrambled transmission modes where the keys are freely available to any other radio amateur – which means that they’re available to pretty much anyone. The combination he describes is not secure from anything except someone listening to the transmission by ear.

Could the combination be used to transmit a coded message? Yes, but that would violate amateur rules and result in FCC action against the person transmitting.

Hey it's Dave June 25, 2012 at 11:33 am

I have to agree with you (except for that “General Class” crack HI). You’re looking at huge fines and even jail time playing that game. Of course in a Fan Event (love that term), the risk might be worth it.
CW the Original Digital
Dave K7***

Big ED June 25, 2012 at 12:46 pm

after the SHTF the FCC can’t stop you from sending a coded message the Hams do sends message it a type of code its a number (like 28 might be for What time will you get home) at the time I don’t have my list handle….
2 You do not need the “SignaLink USB interface” Most Ham are DIY type and you can build the interface you can some parts at Radio Shack and All Electronics I building one for VHF, as my HF can’t be manual go from LSB to USB on 80 or 40 meter which digital on 80 & 40 meter use USB so right now I’m SOL my radio is an old Swan 350…
3 As for digital modes there are more then winmor…One that I also have is is winpack, Ham Scope and some other which are free and most can be used both HF and VHF and UHF, The DXZONE is a good place to start looking…Yes Winmor is a email over Ham radio, all the other are just massage handle…There is one more I feel I will talk about and that is FLDIGI which is free at this time and this you don’t a interface all that is needed is a computer with a mic and a speaker and your radio I have that on my ham radio computer…. that all for now….

An Actual Ham June 26, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Ed – whether the FCC will be around or motivated to prosecute someone in a worst-case environment is beside the point; the combination suggested WILL NOT result in any form of “secure” messaging, period – unless you start with a coded message, in which case voice would achieve the same goal.

Ridge Runner June 27, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Tell you what, wise guy. Tomorrow I’ll send a message to a buddy of mine via WinLink. You intercept it, decipher it, and let me know what it said. sk

AgoristTeen1994 June 26, 2012 at 10:50 pm

While it IS true that at the moment it would be a very bad idea to transmit something that was encrypted over Ham radio bands, post-SHTF that won’t really be a problem. Though I do have two questions regarding this: 1. Would encrypting the email with GPG count as something that would be illegal? And 2. Is there anyway of getting RMS Express on Linux?

MountainSurvivor June 27, 2012 at 12:32 am

Some food for thought, Ridge. Thanks. When tshtf, I’ll just have to drag out my string and styrofoam cup because the sun don’t shine all that much in winter round here.

RadioRay August 19, 2012 at 7:15 pm

1. WINMOR and WINLINK uses full error correction which is why – if there was no legal restriction- it is fully capable of sending any data files that you can send on regular internet, including, pictures, maps, excel files, and of course PGP encrypted files. The ability to send encrypted is a capability, not a system requirement.

2. This software compresses all files before transmission (perfectly legal) to make the messages & transmission times shorter. Any ham or Shortwave listener might be able to HEAR the signal, but unless they can capture every single bit – perfectly- through passive listening on HF, the message is basically unrecoverable. Three leter agencies, I am certain, have their own ways, but Joe Ham does not have this capability unless some amazingly well equipped software guru with nothing better to do is able to read partially recovered data from a message run through a data compresor, but if so, it’s not being talked about. In short – while most ham transmissions are very easy to intercept and to understand, WINLINK/WINMOR is as private as you are going to find in ham use.

I do hope that the time never comes when we would have the absolute NEED to send crypto over the radio, but if it does, there are ways and this is only one of them – and a handy ‘use friendly’ way at that! In the meantime, enjoy using your radios and training wisely, but most of all – get communicating NOW so that you’ll be communicating THEN.

73 de RadioRay …_ ._

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