Santa Clara County ARES/RACES
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Packet Service Description

Overview   |   Functionality   |   Access   |   Servers   |   Accounts   |   Security

 

Overview

The Santa Clara County ARES/RACES network provides a standard amateur radio packet BBS (Bulletin Board System) service. The service is specifically designed to provide full-service BBS functionality (messages and bulletins) throughout Santa Clara County even if the entire Internet is completely down. The service can also send and receive e-mail to/from Internet e-mail addresses. But the service is not in any way dependent on the Internet.

This page describes the features and functionality of the service. Two fictitious entities are used in the examples below to avoid posting real packet addresses:

 

Functionality

The Santa Clara County ARES/RACES network provides a standard, amateur radio packet BBS service. The service works just like other packet BBS services and has the following standard packet networking capabilities:

Each SCCo packet BBSs is also connected to a standard Internet e-mail gateway. This means that the packet BBS service includes the following additional capabilities:

The SCCo packet service is not dependent on any public Internet infrastructure, except, of course, to send/receive e-mail to/from the Internet. Therefore, if the Internet is completely down, the service will continue to operate within Santa Clara County.

The service is available for use at any time. But it is specifically designed to survive and be available during emergency scenarios when other systems may be down or unreachable. The service is provided by five BBSs located at five different sites in the county. Most locations in the county can reach at least two of the sites via amateur radio. Therefore, even if a BBS site suffers a catastrophic failure, users that normally connect to that site can still get packet service from the other sites.

A packet client application called Outpost is recommended to create, send, receive and organize messages. The standard packet BBS command line is also available.

 

Access

The packet service can be accessed from a variety of wireless and wireline options. The most flexible access method is via AX.25 packet radio on the 2m (144) and 1.25m (220) VHF amateur radio bands, using a standard packet TNC. Most places in the county can reach at least two of the backbone sites on VHF. This provides protection against single points of failure in a disaster. Stations can be easily set up just about anywhere, using radios and antennas that most radio amateurs already have.

56+ kbps TCP/IP access will soon be available on the 70 cm (440) UHF amateur radio band. This will require a different radio, since legacy radios are not capable of this speed. But the same UHF antenna, used for other 440 communications can be used.

Fixed locations that have a WiFi connection to one of the county network sites will have higher speed TCP/IP access; typically 10 Mbps or more. But reliance on a single WiFi connection is a single point of failure. Therefore, important sites such as EOCs, hospitals and more should have at least two WiFi connections or else a WiFi connection and a VHF/UHF radio connection to avoid a single point of failure.

The service is not currently available from the commercial Internet. After all, the whole point of the service is to provide intra-county communications without the need for the Internet.

 

Servers

Santa Clara County ARES/RACES operates five independent BBS systems, each of which is located in a different part of the county. The five different locations improve survivability in the event of a major catastrophe. Each BBS can operate independently and all BBSs have identical functionality. Think of it as having accounts with different e-mail service providers so that a problem at one provider doesn't impact the service at another provider.

BBS Call Sign Location
W1XSC San Jose (Santa Clara County office bldg)
W2XSC Crystal Peak (south county)
W3XSC Mountain View
W4XSC Frazier Peak (above Milpitas)
W5XSC varies (training, backup, incident-specific)

Because the SCCo BBSs can communicate to a variety of network types, they each have the appropriate name/domain structure for each network type. For more details on addressing, consult Packet Addressing.

BBS Call Sign AX.25 Connect AMPRnet/Internet Traditional BBS Network NET/ROM Alias
W1XSC W1XSC-1 w1xsc.ampr.org w1xsc.#nca.ca.usa.noam XSCBB1
W2XSC W2XSC-1 w2xsc.ampr.org w2xsc.#nca.ca.usa.noam XSCBB2
W3XSC W3XSC-1 w3xsc.ampr.org w3xsc.#nca.ca.usa.noam XSCBB3
W4XSC W4XSC-1 w4xsc.ampr.org w4xsc.#nca.ca.usa.noam XSCBB4
W5XSC W5XSC-1 w5xsc.ampr.org w5xsc.#nca.ca.usa.noam XSCBB5

Each city/agency in Santa Clara County is assigned a primary and backup BBS according to geography and overall number of users. The primary and secondary assignments are the same as in the e-mail service. All users in a given city/agency will normally connect to the BBS for that's agency/city's primary domain. If that BBS is unreachable, the backup BBS is used. If both the primary and backup BBSs are unreachable, then any of the other BBSs can be used. The primary and backup assignments help ensure that the RF channel usage is optimized and that everyone knows where everyone else will be, even in the event that a site is completely down.


Accounts

Personal Accounts

Santa Clara County ARES/RACES members can use any of the BBSs by simply connecting to them over the air. When connecting via RF using AX.25, the BBS identifies the user by the call sign of the TNC. A password is not required on AX.25. When a user connects, a mailbox is automatically created.

Note: Connecting via TCP/IP (such as when using 56 kbps or WiFi) requires a password and is currently only available to sites with a direct connection to one of the SCCo network locations.

For example, if Herman Munster, who's fictitious call sign is W6XRL4, wanted to connect to BBS W1XSC, he would use the TNC commands:

cmd> MYCALL W6XRL4
cmd> C W1XSC-1

He could then send packet messages to any packet or Internet address. He could receive messages using the following packet addresses:

Herman would normally use the account on his primary BBS. If the primary BBS is not reachable, Herman would use his assigned secondary BBS. If neither the primary nor secondary BBSs are reachable, Herman would use whichever BBS he can reach.

Tactical Accounts

Tactical BBS accounts are used when operating as a function or location, rather than as an individual.

Santa Clara County ARES/RACES leadership (EC/CRO or designated AEC/DCRO) can request packet tactical call signs. When the call signs are updated in the BBS servers, they are available for use on all SCCo BBSs.

For example, if the fictitious City of Xanadu's EOC, with a tactical call sign of XNDEOC, wanted to connect to BBS W4XSC, it would use the TNC commands:

cmd> MYCALL XNDEOC
cmd> C W4XSC-1

It could then send packet messages to any packet or Internet address. It could receive messages using the following packet addresses:

The City of Xanadu's EOC would normally use the account on its primary BBS. If the primary BBS is not reachable, it would use its assigned secondary BBS. If neither the primary nor secondary BBS are reachable, the Xanadu EOC would use whichever BBS it can reach.

Quotas

The packet BBS does not maintain per-account quotas. But filling up the server with old and/or unread messages is obviously not a good idea for emergency communications. Each user should check their BBS accounts on a regular basis and be sure to keep their mailboxes clean by deleting messages from the BBS on each session. The standard SCCo configuration for the Outpost packet client deletes each message from the BBS after it retrieves it.

Expiry

Expiry interval = 180 days

Each time a user connects to his/her packet mailbox, he/she will download all messages and then delete the copy of the message on the server. But if the user doesn't connect, old messages can accumulate. At some point, the mailbox may become quite large or, at the least, is taking up space that could be used for other purposes.

To help keep mailboxes free of old, irrelevant messages, and keep mailboxes clear to receive emergency communications, messages older than the expiry interval will be deleted.

Notices

The xscperm and xscevent notice areas on the packet BBSs contain important operational information for Santa Clara County packet operators. The standard SCCo configuration for the Outpost packet client downloads all new SCCo notices during each connection to a BBS.

Termination

BBS access may be terminated for various reasons, including:

If a BBS account is terminated, a message explaining the reason for termination will be sent to the external e-mail address that is configured in the user's SCCo activities database entry.

 

Security

The network is operated with state-of-the-art security. But security is everyone's responsibility. Each individual is responsible for making sure that they keep their passwords safe and protect their PC and amateur radio station from unauthorized access. The network also incorporates multiple security mechanisms to protect itself and its users. Some of those mechanisms are described below.

Passwords (for TCP/IP access only)

One of the easiest ways that an account can be compromised is through the use of a password that is easy to guess. To avoid that, passwords are required to be of sufficient length and contain sufficient variation in the type of characters used that they are not easy to guess.

NEVER share your password with anyone else for any reason!

 

Anti-X (Anti-SPAM, Anti-Virus, Anti-...)

The network incorporates multiple levels of threat detection and prevention to block SPAM, viruses and other intrusions. Methods include signature-based, reputation-based, content-based, and heuristic analysis mechanisms.

 

 


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This page was last updated 10-May-2017