back to article Anonymous develops secure data over ham radio scheme

Anonymous – or, at least, entities claiming Anonymous affiliation – has put together a secure communications project using the open source ham-radio Fldigi modem controller. You're not going to get fast communications out of AirChat, since it takes the world back to the days of encoding data over voice channels. The group says …


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  1. Mark 85

    Radio, huh.....

    So once they start causing "issues" for those in power, and a given transceiver's location has been triangulated... I suspect the worst case is an ARM on the way with collateral damage and all that.

    Oh... yeah... this is a good idea.

    Best case, they triangulate and wait for the thing to be used and grab the equipment and the user.

    1. WraithCadmus

      Re: Radio, huh.....

      An ARM might be a bit strong, but I suspect anyone using this will get V& with extreme prejudice.

      1. JeffyPoooh

        Oh Goodie... More 'Foxhunt' targets

        Anyone contemplating pirate radio had better choose their frequency carefully. In any location, there's always several amateur ('Ham') radio enthusiasts that are ready to go 'Foxhunting' (tracking down transmitters) on short notice. They'd be at one's door with pitchforks and flaming torches within the hour.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. RobHib

    Well, well, well, that's going to put the cat amongst the pigeons!

    Well, that's going to put the cat amongst the pigeons. The ultra conservative amateur radio movement won't know what's hit it.

    That said, I've wondered for some time how long it would take to use the aether to replace the now-parasitised cable network. Of course, anyone who knows the basics of radio communications and spectrum management will know that the amateur bands would be clogged out of existence if even a tiny part of the internet traffic were to go by long-distance wireless. Even short-hop local (across-city) VHF/UHF bands would clog up if realistic traffic loads were imposed on them.

    Nevertheless, I'm pretty damn sure that wireless: HF, VHF/UHF, microwave, moon-bounce* or whatever are already used to bypass ISPs or to fly under the surveillance 'RADAR'. Still, anyone who thinks they'll escape detection will be in for a big surprise. Spy satellites already monitor just about any RF from DC to daylight.

    Of course, having a separate wireless network will cause havoc for the NSA if for no other reasons than any old protocol could be used (even the OSI model subverted), and that if part of the traffic were sent by wireless and other parts by the existing internet (or by other circuits) then the likes of the NSA, GCHQ et al will have to work overtime (having only part of a data stream is somewhat inconvenient, methinks).

    Presumably that's the intent.


    Joke -- the data rates would be so slow, they'd be in Voyager-1 league.

    1. RobHib

      @RobHib -- I should add...

      As I've mentioned previously in these posts, the IP method of addressing across the internet is a godsend for those in surveillance--even at its most basic, pinging and trace-route and such can tell you a great deal about users.

      However, I've surmised that it will only be a matter of time before someone perfects a distributed addressing scheme whereby the source and destination addresses are encrypted and 'distributed' (using dynamically changing addresses at different locations such as there is no single IP address to track). A simplistic (and hardly accurate) analogy will suffice here: consider radio broadcasting--one broadcasts a signal but unlike the internet there's no way to determine who's actually receiving the transmissions--all listeners are technically anonymous.

      Perfect such a schema in both directions and you've a major problem to determine who's 'transmitting' and 'receiving' packets let alone determine what's actually being transmitted. On the internet, such a scheme is very difficult to achieve--if not impossible, as the existing system/technical infrastructure is essentially hard-wired with 'known' IP addresses and standardised TCP/IP protocols etc. On the other hand, if you change the physical transport layer and IP protocols completely (design a new system from scratch) then we've a new ballgame altogether. Moreover, wireless has the potential to do just that.

      Again, for any new schema, wired systems pose a major problem (as ISPs, telcos, governments etc. control every aspect of the net. Even rights of way (cableways) are controlled.

      Clearly, wireless spectrum provides the means to bypass all the controlled infrastructure; and I'll bet that even if this Anonymous scheme fails, then others will attempt it. Even though illegal to transmit without authority, it'll be damn hard to control. Anyone who remembers Radio Moscow and Radio Peking versus Radio America during the Cold War days will attest to this. Despite huge resources and millions spent by both sides in trying to jam out each other's radio broadcasts, I along with everyone else had absolutely no trouble listening to all the protagonists.

      Trouble is the electromagnetic spectrum is a severely limited resource, and if anarchy breaks out then there's trouble for all spectrum users. Nevertheless, newly designed wireless networks with new encrypted and distributed protocols have the potential to shaft all those are spying on users.

      BTW, it's occurred to me that a new encrypted/distributed wireless network could be used in conjunction with the existing internet. If the wireless network were only used for controlling the internet (switching IP addressees, servers at random etc.) then trying to monitor internet traffic might turn into a nightmare (as crucial control information would be sent by encrypted/ and distributed wireless). If only addressing and control information were limited to wireless then it's likely wireless traffic might be manageable.

  3. Gray
    Thumb Down

    Sorry to spoil the fun, but ...

    the stodgy old FCC has no sense of humo[u]r about certain things.

    First, unlicensed use of the radio spectrum brings fines that run $10,000 and up, on a per-day basis at their discretion. If the violations become sufficiently public/egregious, they will take enforcement action.

    Second, any form of encrypted communications over the amateur bands (ham radio) is absolutely forbidden by long-standing regulation. FCC has even less sense of humo[u]r about this violation. In fact, any private _business or commercial_ communication is forbidden on the amateur frequencies. Grab a handbook and read the rules.

    It's pretty certain this article's suggested techniques will get an extremely negative reaction in FCC-land. (And yes, they DO have triangulation equipment, and a great volunteer amateur radio group that will hunt and locate violators purely for the sport of it.)

    Gray ==> licensed Ham since 1962

    1. RobHib

      @Gray -- Re: Sorry to spoil the fun, but ...

      The FCC might have more success but consider this. For years and years, London has had a pirate radio problem that authorities have not been able to close down. This is no tiny operation but a fully fledged illegal radio service operating under the nose of the authorities.

      Have a look at this program timetable (it's alive and well on the net and it's not being censored):

      London's Pirate Radio Stations.

      Well, it's not only London, but Italy and other countries are also rampant with such services. Moreover, with most countries having essentially shut down, amalgamated or outsourced their spectrum management authorities over the past 30 or so years, they've neither the will nor resources to close these pirates down.

      Like if or not, spectrum anarchy reigns.

      BTW, I'm far from being a spectrum anarchist--just the opposite in fact, read my posts going way back on this topic and you'll realise it. All I'm doing is stating a reality.

      1. Paul J Turner

        Re: @Gray -- Sorry to spoil the fun, but ...

        I know that the FCC was in fact considering encryption on amateur radio, but I don't know how it panned out. Here is a Bruce Perens post on it in 2013 06 26 - FCC Considering Proposal For Encrypted Ham Radio

        Strike that, I just found the answer, "No" -

        1. RobHib

          @Paul J Turner -- Re: @Gray -- Sorry to spoil the fun, but ...

          There's little doubt that if anonymous encrypted transmissions are allowed on the amateur bands then this is tantamount to amateurs giving away their bands as they'll effectively lose control of them.

          That such a proposal is being considered at all I find amazing. It's not that long ago that amateurs were required to transmit in plain language and in the language of the jurisdiction under which they were operating--in the UK that meant any TX had to be in plain English whether it be voice or CW.

          If for some reason that the Anonymous proposal goes ahead, either legally or illegally, then amateurs have to be concerned. Even if it falls flat on its face then there's still no cause for complacency.

          As I've said elsewhere in these posts, it's clear that the TCP/IP - IP internet addressing structure of the internet is a godsend for monitoring authorities as it makes monitoring traffic so damn easy, thus there's now enormous pressure to find technical solutions and wireless is a strong contender to be one of the components (as I outlined earlier), thus there'll be enormous pressure brought to bear on the amateur bands.

          Whether we like it or not, I believe what Anonymous is doing here with the amateur bands is just the beginning. Sooner or later, whether by avalanche or steady creep, the real and increasing pressure to find technical solutions to the IP-address monitoring problem will involve wireless transmission.

          What's extremely disconcerting not only for amateur radio but for spectrum users generally is that spectrum management ain't what it use to be! The conservative. tightly-regulated spectrum of say WARC-'79 (ITU World Administrative Radio Conference) and years earlier no longer exists*. All around the world spectrum management has been deregulated, spectrum authorities neutered or outsourced together with the introduction of abominable practices such as spectrum auctions replacing traditional licensing of spectrum on an as-needed basis.

          I've thought about this problem for ages and I cannot see how it can be solved without using wireless technology (as it's considerably less controllable by governments than cables). Barring a major political breakthrough that would restrict government monitoring or make it transparent, which seems extremely unlikely, then there'll be pressures to find solutions by groups such as Anonymous--or even governments (especially non-English speaking ones).

          Perhaps some bright spark will find a bullet-proof way of making standard IP addresses anonymous by either distributing--smudging--them across thousands of IP addresses and or encrypting them. If so, then finding alternatives to the existing cable system might be averted.

          One thing is certain: the cat is out of the bag and this problem isn't going away any time soon. The reason seems obvious: in our Western societies there's a fundamental disenchantment with the way our democracies are working--the perception being that citizens are having less say and becoming less powerful and our governance more authoritarian--and monitoring and tracking everything citizens do is an overwhelming sign of this.

          All up, it seems to me that this doesn't bode well for traditional spectrum users.

          Let's hope I'm wrong.


          * Proof positive of this is governments' acceptance of diabolical assaults on the spectrum such as BPL/PLT/PLC. Prior to say WARC-'79, 'BPL'--the concept of using power transmission lines as the world's largest antenna to broadcast 'noise'--could have only been imagined in the mind of an anarchist intent on bringing the world's communication to a halt, but in recent years such concepts have not only become thinkable but also acceptable. I am still dumbfounded how radio engineers, IEEE et al, allowed this abomination to even get a footing (I've an answer but that's another story). That it did makes me very pessimistic for the future of good spectrum management.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Gray -- Sorry to spoil the fun, but ...

        "Like if or not, spectrum anarchy reigns."

        Well yes. Sort of. But not so much in Ham land in the UK, as Gray is right about the offensive. With commercial bands you have one organisation trying to sort it out with limited resources. With amateur allocated bands you have Hams who will locate the culprits and then show the powers that be where they are.

    2. Drs. Security

      Re: Sorry to spoil the fun, but ...

      no only the FCC btw.

      Those same rules apply practically worldwide and I am pretty sure HAMs will help the authorities kick those unlicensed pirates off their bands.

      Even if it is only to preserve the rights they have studied for and see as their hobby and technological advancement.

      And Yes CW was indeed the first digital mode. Even so that the Dutch (probably CEPT in total) state that it is a digital mode even now.

      What a lot of people are forgetting is that the way we communicate now, certainly wireless (mile phones, WiFi, satellites etc.) are largely thanks to radio amateurism in the past.

      Even the fact that we are free to listen to any radio station (apart from say Air Traffic communication in Germany and the UK) is directly linked to the fact that radio HAMs in the past had the guts to prove to authorities that having listening licences could never be uphold and checked by law.

      And yes, HAM bands are monitored by the government for misuse and piracy.

      73! (CEPT Full licence operator)

    3. Dx-Digger

      Re: Sorry to spoil the fun, but ...

      What has the FCC got to do with this? The FCC don't rule the world on radio communication and spectrum allocation, typical people only thinking about USA and their rules, Remember if it wasn't for the USA and UK spying on people in the first place this idea would never of reared its head!

      A lot of this idea has come from countries where the occupants are being ethnically cleansed and all normal telecoms and internet is either controlled or switched off to stop communication during peoples uprising and to stop them reporting to the rest of the world about atrocities being committed against them! I would not call that FUN! would you?

      Yeah lets all cry someone is transmitting on our ham bands and stopping us saying 59/001 1KW or whatever!

      You honestly think they would want to use a radio allocation full of over-modulated splatter generating radio operators? REALLY?

      The idea, even if it is not a new one can be effective for short term communication and getting messages out from an oppressed people! Yes they can Direction Find etc, that was done during WW2 but the messages still got out and if the people are being killed anyway then what have they got to lose? Do you think they care if their government fines them $10,000 that they don't have, they are fighting to survive!

      So don't worry, you can safely sit with your fat backside in your comfy chair calling CQ Contest CQ Contest! and live in your Apathy ridden controlled and legislated world, happy in the knowledge that today your house will not get raided and all your family assassinated!

      Mark==> Licenced Ham since 1985

  4. Cliff

    Data collisions?

    As soon as low bitrate data is being sent bidirectionally, surely you need to broker who gets to talk when, or you'll get collisions. It happens often enough with walkie talkies, let alone when a bunch of kids (sorry Anonymous, I know there are some smart people there but the numbers are bolstered by kids wanting to sound cool) are in showing off mode over the airwaves.

    1. Drs. Security

      Re: Data collisions?

      Amateur packet radio already takes care of that problem.

      However quality of service may indeed be an issue in the end.

      Effectively the HAM bands work because of one simple and important rule: thou shell not cause interference with thou fellow HAMs.


  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All very well but..

    You can't regulate infrared, and its possible though difficult to send a collimated non-coherent IR beam through air which simply cannot be detected outside the beam and travels tens of miles.

    If enough of these are set up using pre distributed keys they would be indistinguishable from background noise and they could be put anywhere in line of sight much like WiFi boosters today.

    0.7mA average = less than a microamp if only sending kbps at a 1% duty cycle so a lithium AAA would last for years.

    Recent work with quantum cryptography suggests that uncooled sensors can be used with QE in the 5% range so that 1mW of optical power sent to neighbour 10 miles away with solar panels on their roof modified with a simple bandpass filter would make a huge detection area.

    Simply send the signals in the time domain to avoid collisions using pre-shared key as described earlier.

    Also works with Mr Lunar Torrent Server (tm) just as well if not better, a 10W IR laser mounted in a convenient crater with an Earth-tracking mechanism would allow hundreds of Kbps and be unblockable.

    1. Howard Long

      Re: All very well but..

      Very nice too. Unless it's raining or foggy.

    2. LoPath
      Black Helicopters

      Re: All very well but..

      Wouldn't you still be able to see that at night with night vision goggles?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The good news... that more ASSnonymous members are prosecuted and sent to prison weekly. They can use whatever insecure data means they desire. They are still going to prison for their crimes.

  7. Mage Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    contribution to the world of ham packet radio

    I see no contribution here.

    1) This isn't new

    2) Piracy isn't new (over 100 years old)

    3) Data comms over radio is really really old. Even in 1930s they used typewriters and almost unbreakable encoding (note the German traffic was cracked due to bad operating practices).

    4) It's really easy to track down locations of transmitters.

    Hams could have been using encryption and cyphers for over 100 years but don't because it's illegal everywhere.

    With Laptop, SSB transmitter / Receiver you can do secure encryption on any datamode (Morse, RTTY, Hellscriber, fax, PSK31 etc etc). Like encryption on t'Internet the biggest issue is key distribution, or if you use the uncrackable one time pad, the code book!

    So not news, just stupidity. Also unless you use about 100 systems in parallel on 100 different frequencies the average analogue dialup phone line is about 10x faster.

    If you have very fancy gear then spread spectrum over 10s of MHz might not be noticed. Most off the shelf gear will only do a single 2.5KHz channel.

  8. Drs. Security

    I totally agree.

    The only "encryption" radio amateurs are using are new modes they are designing themselves which the regulatory bodies don't know about yet.

    But even then they are obligated to put their callsign out in a recognised mode for regulations.

    It's hard enough dealing with neighbours, municipalities and other electronics trying to destroy the HAM hobby.

    As said before, let's not forget that the way we communicate today is largely thanks to amateur radio.

    Oh and misuse of HAM frequencies for hacking or illegal stuff isn't new either, just read Kevin Mitnick's book "ghost in the wires"

  9. Howard Long

    Unless I'm very much mistaken...

    ...thousands and thousands of us were doing this in the late '70s and through to the early '90s, before anyone had heard of "the Internet". We even launched several satellites to help to provide global coverage. It also connected to the internet with the 44.x.x.x subnet. Somewhere(!) I have my own 44 address written down.

    Then two things happened. Firstly, it was a victim of its own success, and it pretty much drowned in its own traffic, becoming nigh on unusable, essentially what you'd call an unintended DDoS these days I suppose. Radio by its very nature is fundamentally a broadcast medium, not point-point like most of the traffic, so channel saturation is a big problem: you see this with WiFi for example. Secondly, the Internet came along in the mid '90s with its higher bandwidth, and no pesky end user licensing to contend with.

    There's really nothing technologically new here, I'm afraid. Other than they're not bothering with the pesky licensing, and even that's not exactly new either.

  10. Rob Daglish

    My fellow hams...

    ...have already said pretty much what I was thinking. Apart from the fact, and nobody has yet said this, Oh my God, do MotherBoard not proof-read their articles?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The irony is

    This is exactly the sort of thing that Amateur radio CAN be used for. Just get a licence it's not difficult. Then you're free to experiment with whatever takes your interest

    1. Slartybardfast

      Re: The irony is

      "Then you're free to experiment with whatever takes your interest"

      Certainly in the UK or US you're not.

  12. Dave 32


    47CFR97.113(4) still prohibits encrypted communications on the amateur radio bands in the US:

    "(4) Music using a phone emission except as specifically provided elsewhere in this section; communications intended to facilitate a criminal act; messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning, except as otherwise provided herein; obscene or indecent words or language; or false or deceptive messages, signals or identification."

    Thus, anyone using encrypted communications would quickly find their connection dropped (if they were using someone else's node), or would be quickly triangulated and reported. Amateur radio operators are VERY protective of their bands and privileges.

    Now, it might be possible to use some of these techniques on some of the ISM bands (47CFR18):

    or, maybe even using the limitations in Part 15 (47CRF15):

    And, of course, they could definitely be used up in the "uncontrolled" RF spectrum space (which is most of the way up to infrared now).

    However, some of the things they'll be fighting are, with conventional radio equipment, they'll either be seriously limited to their data rate (2400 bits per second for unmodified VHF/UHF radio equipment, closer to 300 bits per second for unmodified HF radio equipment). Or, they'll be seriously limited in their range (for VHF/UHF/microwave/infrared bands). There's a bit of trade-off involving data rate and distance/power; for example, some of the QRSS techniques allow for minimal power for extreme distances, but at the expense of data rate (1 bit per second or less?).

    Still, I think they're thinking that radio equipment can't be easily located, which is obviously false. Foxhunts (e.g., searches for hidden radio transmitters) typically take less than 30 minutes for a well trained team (and, there are a LOT of well trained teams out there). Even mobile transmitters can be pretty quickly located. I've seen some amateur automated bearing location equipment which will provide the bearing to a signal in well under one second (which allows for a dynamic, real time bearing, even for a moving transmitter).

    Plus, there's a technique of performing "RF fingerprinting" of a transmitter's output that allows it to be uniquely identified (e.g., signal rise time, quiesce time, noise characteristics, etc.). Heck, for that matter, there has even been quite a few successes locating receivers, via their local oscillator radiation (e.g., British TV locator vans, radar-detector-detectors, etc.).

    Thus, before Anonymous puts too much credence in this approach, I think they need to do a bit more research of just how many holes there are in it. Yeah, tracking down such an RF link may require that some people get out of their easy chair to locate them, but it's certainly possible (and, when you make those bureaucrats get out of their easy chairs, well, they're not going to be happy!). ;-)

    Oh, yeah, ditto the comments about the US$10,000 fines, per day, for unlicensed radio signals. I saw a news article just yesterday where the FCC imposed a US$46,000 fine for a violation. You REALLY don't want to get them mad at you!


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 47CFR97.113(4)

      "British TV locator vans"

      One word: L. O. L.

  13. Herby

    Good luck

    Enough said. It just isn't going to work.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Neutrino radio

    That is all.

    Good luck detecting that, I have schematics here for a functioning neutrino detector that can not only distinguish the trajectories but actually send viable data using a stimulated isomer.

    Range would be about maybe 7-900 miles, yet somehow no-one seems interested.

    Slight catch: requires radioactive materials.

    Additional slight catch: also requires superconductors that work at room temperature and those are pretty hard to get even now.

  15. Dx-Digger

    No Mention of using Ham Radio Frequencies

    If you bother to read the original post above, There is no mention of using Ham Radio Frequencies! Infact no actual frequency is mentioned apart from maybe broadcast FM or AM.

    So why did the Register title this piece "Anonymous develops secure data over ham radio scheme"

    Why didn't they correctly say "Anonymous develop secure data communications using free ham radio software"

    Maybe the writer didnt understand what was being discussed or maybe they knew by mentioning

    Ham radio that they would get all the hams posting on here attacking anonymous!

    So all you radio Hams jumping on the 'not in my backyard' posts are just showing that you take whatever is written to be correct without actually checking the facts.

    So dont worry guys you can rest at ease and continue your 5/9 001 KM23op or whatever! :lol: :D

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