AES Tells How ADS’ Mesh Network Failed

A French satellite transmitting on the 465.9875 MHz frequency, combined with ground-based radio frequency interference, was found to be the cause of the mesh network failure.

AURORA, Ill. – The root cause behind a massive storm of corrupted data that triggered a catastrophic failure to an AES mesh network operated by Alarm Detection Systems (ADS) has been determined, according to AES Corp.

SSI has obtained a letter penned by AES Corp. CEO & President Bill Kieckhafer, which the company sent to its customers Nov. 11. In the correspondence, Kieckhafer lays out in detail the company’s “exhaustive” analysis and conclusions relating to the incident that has forced ADS to replace approximately 10,500 AES-IntelliNet radio transceivers in order to return alarm signal transmission to each affected subscriber.

In the letter, AES said it has demonstrated what occurred resulted from a highly unusual and unforeseen confluence of factors that were not related to the ADS network at issue or any other AES-IntelliNet network.

Kieckhafer states:

A French satellite, which transmits on the same 465.9875 MHz frequency as our customer’s AES-IntelliNet network, flooded the Earth’s surface in that specific area of Illinois with un-decodable data packets. As we know that this satellite has been transmitting over that same frequency all over the world since 2006, we believe those transmissions alone were highly unlikely to have caused the problems that occurred.

What made this event unique was a simultaneous incident of severe, ground-based radio frequency interference (RFI) in the same general area of Illinois. There have been several similar RFI events noted in the same general area over recent months. None had been sufficient to penetrate an AES-IntelliNet network. Neither AES nor our customers in the area have identified any concerns of any note from any of those RFI events until this most recent issue arose.

Thus, AES engineers concluded the simultaneous combination of the French satellite transmitting over the same frequency – which itself was flooded with data from the independent ground-level RFI incident – delivered too much corrupted data too quickly to be filtered out by the first-generation AES-IntelliNet units remaining in service on the affected network operated by ADS, which operates multiple AES networks. The corrupted data propagated throughout that specific network and only that network, Kieckhafer said.

In short, neither the transmissions from the French satellite nor the ground-level RFI was enough independently to cause the network at issue any unusual glitches. Together, however, the two anomalies severely degraded the communication channel and allowed the network to be penetrated in unexpected ways.

The network disruption left ADS with no means to monitor affected commercial and residential subscriber accounts throughout the greater Chicagoland area and Kenosha County in Wisconsin. ADS declined to comment to SSI about the conclusions AES has reached about the network failure. 

Kieckhafer said the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) and the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) have been aware of the French satellite that transmits on the 465.9875 MHz frequency. In fact, Kieckhafer said previous industry efforts to shut down transmissions from the satellite were unsuccessful.

Conversely, in 2010 AES assisted AICC and CSAA in convincing the United States government to stop the 465.9875 megahertz frequency transmissions of a satellite operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to prevent interference or delays in communications for AES customers. To further minimize any potential interference, AES has not issued this frequency to any installing security contractor since 2011, unless specifically requested.

Because more than 100 AES-licensed private wireless networks operate in the greater Chicago area – none of which were affected by the corrupted data storm – Kieckhafer said AES is confident the existing AES-IntelliNet system is successfully targeting and destroying corrupted data packets as necessary.

AES previously introduced a second-generation subscriber unit that includes more robust filters and therefore is better capable of filtering out corrupted data packets to meet current and future challenges, Kieckhafer said, concluding the letter with:

If you do not currently utilize the 465.9875 MHz frequency, what happened in Illinois should not be a concern for you. If you are a customer who utilizes that frequency, we believe you do not need to take precipitous actions. The likelihood of an RFI event involving the French satellite transmitting corrupted data packets at the same time a strong, persistent and severe independent RFI event occurs in your area is extremely low. Nonetheless, we would encourage you to contact us to discuss whether any first-generation subscriber units you might have should be upgraded to the second-generation units at this time.

About the Author

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Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for latimes.com. Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

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