Thinking Ahead – Misinformation and disinformation techniques to mask your true identity as an Amateur Radio Operator

Another in a series of posts in the Thinking Ahead Series started with:

Misinformation and disinformation techniques to mask your true identity as an Amateur Radio Operator seems like a bit of mischief in the making, until you reflect on what the costs of being fully identified as a Ham Radio operator might be.

I’d like to run thoughts from the common sense easy end to the more involved techniques.

At the easiest and most passive is to simply use identifiers and operating techniques identifying you to the minimum.

Another Call Sign

This could be using a club or station call sign.  It is common practice to use such call signs in many normal instances, and you will often hear a number of operators using a club or event call sign, rather than their own individual call signs.

With the rules allowing the use of call sign appendages, usually as a suffix, as long as the appendages do not introduce confusion, it would make sense to work out suffixes that are useful for your purposes while not providing easy specific outside identification.

Let’s work through an example.  The ARRL uses W1AW for its call sign.  You have four stations in your ARRL network, one on a boat, one in a valley, one on a mountain, and one half way up the hills.  So they could be W1AW/Sailor, W1AW/Base, W1AW/Alto, and W1AW/Climber … or they could offer no location identity and be W1AW/Bravo, W1AW/Alpha, W1AW/Charlie, and W1AW/Delta.

Regardless of what organization you use, the idea is to keep your personal call sign off the air.

Rotating Call Signs

A variation on this theme is to use legally allowable call signs in rotation.  I know of several clubs that have legacy holdings of several call signs, and again their is no prohibition against using different legally allowed call signs in different QSOs.

Example: Club has four call signs.  We will label them Call_1, Call_2, Call_3 and Call_4.  Your personal rule is to use the first two on any QSO series you initiate with the first Call_1 being for periods where the start time is after an Even-Minute UTC and the Call_2 is used after an Odd-Minute.  Call_3 and Call_4 are reserved for responding to another’s call using the same rules.  Every 12 hours you change the calling pair and responding pair.

Provided the other station has a reasonable time sync, your 04:04 UTC call to them would start with Call_1 and they would use Call_3 in reply.  You call them again at 04:11 UTC but now would start with Call_2 and they would respond with Call_4.  Your 14:04 call would now use Call_3 and they would respond using Call_1.  And then at 20:17 UTC your call them with Call_4 which you would expect a reply using Call_2.

If you have more less identifiable call signs legally available, your can work up the complexity.

Using Suffixes and Rotating Call Signs

If you are hanging in with me, I think you could see how you could work in a challenge/authentication series into just your call sign usage by both rotating and using suffixes.

Example the four calls are now Call_1, Call_2, Call_3 and Call_4, and we will use the same rules with the previous example of even and odd minutes for selecting the originating call sign, and flipping ever twelve hours.

Now to keep it simple we will add six suffixes, which again to make it simple we will use a plain word that matches the message:  Okay, Worried, Bad, Duress, Relieve (me), Questionable.  Obviously the suffixes in actual use would be opaque word selections rather than spelling it out.

Again provided the other station has a reasonable time sync, now your 04:04 UTC call to them saying you are Okay would be Call_1/Okay and if they/re okay they would use Call_3/Okay in reply.  You call them again at 04:11 UTC but now need to convey that you need relieving, so you start with Call_2/Relieve and if they are transmitting with a bad actor holding a gun to their head they would respond with Call_4/Duress.  Your 14:04 call when conditions have gotten difficult would use Call_3/Bad and they might include an indicator that they still have that bad actor holding a gun on them by using Call_1/Duress.  And then at 20:17 UTC your call them need to indicate that you’re relaying traffic you are suspicious of, by using Call_4/Questionable and they reply using Call_2/Worried letting you know they no longer have a gun at their head, but that they are worried for their safety.

So the sequence in the example is:

  • 04:04 UTC Call_1/Okay  Call_3/Okay
  • 04:11 UTC Call_2/Relieve Call_4/Duress
  • 14:04 UTC Call_3/Bad Call_1/Duress
  • 20:17 UTC Call_4/Questionable Call_2/Worried

Now lets use these six words for suffixes, paired with a meaning in a key:

  • Lazy -Okay
  • Lion – Worried
  • Sky – Bad
  • Auto – Duress
  • Pizza – Relieve (me)
  • Clay – Questionable

Which then if applied makes our call sequence into:

  • 04:04 UTC Call_1/Lazy Call_3/Lazy
  • 04:11 UTC Call_2/Pizza Call_4/Auto
  • 14:04 UTC Call_3/Sky Call_1/Auto
  • 20:17 UTC Call_4/Clay Call_2/Lion

Now for those bristling a bit about using a code, remember you are never encrypting nor making the exchange incomprehensible.  Using the last set of examples you have been crystal clear that the /suffix was a real world word and it is only that word that your are conveying.  The other station will copy the suffix, and perhaps have a greater understanding because of a shared idea what the words mean, but they truly will hear and copy say “/Lazy” rather than having to cipher anything.

Actually we do this all the time using Q-codes which need either familiarity or a table to understand.  What differs is the size of the audience that is in the know.

Spurious/Pseudo Call Signs

If the situation merits, you might want to avoid using an identifiable call sign at all.   This is technically non-compliant with the rules, and you might have some ramifications if held to task.  Whether the argument that safety comes first prevails is not for certain, but use of a Spurious or Pseudo Call Sign might protect you long enough to be around to make that sort of argument.

Spurious Call Signs are simply made up call signs.  WWW1 might be one, where the USA typically doesn’t give out calls in a 3×1 format, but it kind of looks like a legitimate call.

Pseudo Call Signs are really not call signs, but something used “like” a call sign.  So you might become “Delta-1” or perhaps “Valley Station” or if you have agreed to support a served agency, perhaps “Agency Valley Station.”

A potential argument if you were ever held to task is that you used tactical call signs for clarity during an emergency.

A non-call identifier

We are so used to using a call sign that it actually seems alien to operate a radio without identifying.

Yet we don’t do the same identification routine in regular conversation.

In regular conversation we may drop hints who we are if we perceive uncertainty at the other end.

So if agreed upfront you might use a non-call identifier.

Perhaps if you always work a consistent color and number into the second sentence of a transmission.

Example:  “Conditions are okay here.  Usual gray weather in the first place. ….” and then in reply sequence “We need fuel for the generators.  Number two keeps browning out. …”

Of perhaps one station always mentions a car make, and the other station always an animal.  So the sequence becomes “Conditions are okay here.  Saw an old Buick. ….” and in the reply sequence “We need fuel for the generators.  Can you send the Chevy over with some. …”

Further Considerations

Your radio and your voice are identifiable by those with the right equipment.

Let’s address the voice first.

Professional grade voice modifiers can be used to obscure your voice from being identified by ear or less sophisticated equipment.  Real technical gear will still ID you though.

With the threat of a real technical gear you can use voice synthesis.  Every Siri female american type voice is the same.  Now you shouldn’t depend on an online service but there are stand alone programs you can use to make your transmissions.

As for your radio, short of very good technical gear on your end, you are perhaps best off switching radios to obscure your radio thumbprint.

I’m hoping I’ve given you some ideas on how you can play within the rules and perhaps use the emergency expediency as a responder to bend the rules a bit.



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