According to Jack Watling & Nick Reynolds,

Ukrainian officers recalled one incident in which the Russian headquarters gave pre-emptive warning to its units of an artillery strike based on Ukrainian troops calling in a fire mission. The Ukrainian troops were communicating with Motorola radios with 256-bit encryption, but it appeared that the Russians were able to capture and decrypt these transmissions in near real time. The most likely system for such functions is the Torn-MDM.

Source: Jack Watling, Nick Reynolds, Meatgrinder: Russian tactics in the second year of its invasion of Ukraine, Royal United Services Institute, 19 May 2023.

This claim is discussed on Hacker News, where it is claimed that the aforementioned radios are Project 25 (P25) radios using 256-bit AES.

Since I find it hard to believe that anyone can decrypt 256-bit AES in "near real time", I assume that – excluding the possibility that old-fashioned HUMINT is to blame — some design or implementation weaknesses are being exploited. Perhaps some of these weaknesses have been published in academic (rather than military) publications. References would be most welcome.


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    $\begingroup$ Doesn't really answer what you asked for, so I'll put it here: There is, of course, the real possibility that one of the communicating parties just happened to be sending in plaintext. A rather famous problem of many P25-compatible radios, which seems to happen more frequently than one would be inclined to believe - see e.g. this talk by Matt Blaze: youtube.com/watch?v=7awwG9aaR4c $\endgroup$
    – Morrolan
    Jul 30, 2023 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ There are many possibilities here; brute forcing AES is obviously not one of them. AES being cracked is very unlikely as well. The most simple one is human intelligence; having the key or a captured listening device would be much more obvious. Then there are side channels (frequency analysis), bad implementations and whatnot to worry about. $\endgroup$
    – Maarten Bodewes
    Jul 30, 2023 at 21:25

1 Answer 1


Mr. Bodewes gave the answer in the comment above: the key had somehow been compromised, an identical radio with active crypto had been captured, someone on the Ukrainian side was helping the Russians in real time, some kind of side-channel attack took place, or the Ukrainians somehow transmitted their fire mission in the clear (who would admit that?).

If the Russians could brute force AES-256, that would be held very close indeed--probably not used for one artillery battle across the mud.


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