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Number stations
August 9, 2006 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Project Evil - Number stations appear on VoIP and it just seems very mysterious. Slashdot picks up the story. Now all is revealed.
posted by caddis (19 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Numbers stations are way cool. Check out the "yosemite sam" transmissions, for example [.wav]. That's a burst of encrypted data preceding the Yosemite Sam sample. Nothing gets the paranoid in me going more than a bunch of cryptic stuff read over the radio with lots of static and cracking in the background.
posted by Mid at 5:00 PM on August 9, 2006


Be sure to check out the Conet Project [previously discussed: 1, 2, 3].
posted by ericb at 5:06 PM on August 9, 2006


What I don't understand is how numbers stations can possibly still be an effective/efficient method of transmitting spy stuff. You'd think coded IRC /msgs would be about 10 million times easier and cheaper and more secure, for example.
posted by Mid at 5:10 PM on August 9, 2006


Especially since they can only be picked up in the UK area.
posted by delmoi at 5:14 PM on August 9, 2006


What I don't understand is how numbers stations can possibly still be an effective/efficient method of transmitting spy stuff.
If you stopped broadcasting the numbers stations, then the other governments would know that you had switched mediums. Safer to just keep broadcasting garbage. Might also be useful to keep around as a method of last resort.
posted by Skwirl at 5:23 PM on August 9, 2006


You'd think coded IRC /msgs would be about 10 million times easier and cheaper and more secure, for example.

When they make computers that are as cheap as a $10 shortwave receiver, with internet availability anywhere on the globe, give me a call.
posted by Jimbob at 5:23 PM on August 9, 2006


Oh, by the way, OMG VIRAL.
posted by delmoi at 5:23 PM on August 9, 2006


When they make computers that are as cheap as a $10 shortwave receiver, with internet availability anywhere on the globe, give me a call.

Um, internet cafe? Public library? Airport lounge? You could keep mixing it up all the time. And no receiver to lug around.
posted by Mid at 5:32 PM on August 9, 2006


Interesting, if painful, read. Hint to cryptopranksters - dark blue links on a black background interspersed in the main text are neither big nor clever.
posted by lekvar at 5:36 PM on August 9, 2006


I think this is very interesting. As long as the one-time pad system is kept secure and truly random (which is no easy feat), this could be quite effective and efficient. Couple this sort of thing with pre-arranged one-time codes, and it would be highly robust, even if done in "broad daylight" like this.

There are lots of ways other than phone numbers to distribute numbers station info. Txt messages over cell phones, even.

Jimbob, most actual spies operate in areas that are full of people and with access to many different communications media. Spies who are removed from such things, say, out in the wilds of Afghanistan looking for Osama, might only get limited usefulness from a numbers station, I think.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:52 PM on August 9, 2006


"Spies who are removed from such things, say, out in the wilds of Afghanistan looking for Osama, might only get limited usefulness from a numbers station, I think."

Yeah, but they're just so much fun to listen to, anyway. And not a lot else to do out in the wilds of Afghanistan, either. Well, ok, there's heroin. Numbers stations on heroin, now that would really rock!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:39 PM on August 9, 2006


This sounds very cool. Thanks for bringing numbers stations to my attention. Oh, does anyone need another layer of tinfoil? I've got extra.
posted by MrZero at 7:58 PM on August 9, 2006


When I was in high school, I lived in a small town in the Florida Everglades. One day, listening to the radio, a numbers station transmission blasted through the music I was listening to. I turned the dial and discovered that the numbers transmission was drowning out every frequency, and loudly. The only explanation I can come up with is that the source of the transmission must have been very, very close to my house. Never heard it again, but I've been fascinated / creeped out about numbers stations ever since.
posted by the jam at 8:05 PM on August 9, 2006


Especially since they can only be picked up in the UK area.

Not true.
posted by Opposite George at 8:08 PM on August 9, 2006


IMO: this is interesting.
posted by j-urb at 8:44 PM on August 9, 2006


But what does this have to do with Lost?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:19 PM on August 9, 2006


Oh, I luurrrrve me some numbers stations. I keep telling myself I'm going to head out into the desert and find a transmitter, but somehow that never happens.

The mind controlling beams and weather emitters hovering over the Los Angeles basin keep me placid.

And la2600 still meets? Thought they crapped out a while ago. Hmm.
posted by quite unimportant at 2:20 AM on August 10, 2006


What I don't understand is how numbers stations can possibly still be an effective/efficient method of transmitting spy stuff. You'd think coded IRC /msgs would be about 10 million times easier and cheaper and more secure, for example.

The entire point of broadcasting number stations over radio waves is to hide the people/spies who recieve the broadcasts. A good short-wave broadcast can reach the other side of the world. Anyone between here and there can receive the broadcast completely anonymously. The spy-hunters have no way of determining who is receiving the broadcasts. Broadcast number stations both encrypt the data, and hide who receives it.

That is why VOIP and IRC are terrible replacements for this type of communication. The data is still encrypted with VOIP/IRC, but it is much easier to figure out who is receiving the messages. And if you're a spy, that last part is extremely important.

There are ways to attempt to mask your origin when using VOIP and IRC, but they all have potential flaws, especially when compared to the security of broadcast number stations. For instance, you could use TOR to encrypt communications and hide your origin, but it's quite easy to figure out that you're using TOR. Why draw attention to yourself when you don't have to?

If you combine a properly used one-time pad with a broadcast number station, then the communication is completely secure, and completely anonymous (unless the gestapo catches you decoding the message or finds your OTP copy).
posted by jsonic at 7:40 AM on August 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


And la2600 still meets?

Yeah, I heard about this on Off the Hook last night and other 2600 members had no idea who was doing this. They even started doing something along the same lines themselves in response, potentially spoiling the fun for la2600.
posted by caddis at 8:02 AM on August 10, 2006


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