Category Archives: Freecom

A bit of Light Encryption never hurts anybody!

FCC guidelines 97.113.4 enjoin amateurs to not use ciphers or codes. is the published language.

But we do use “accepted codes” like Q-abbreviations and some legacy railroad CW vestiges. Certainly you can’t develop “73” into the meant “best regards” without a lookup (code) table, or figure out that QRP means “low power” typically a few watts or less, and that QRO means “high power” usually over 1kw.

Most digital modes are “encoded” but because the methodology is widely known and available it isn’t considered as a “cipher” – yet as an exception certain Pactor modes are proprietary requiring a third party technology-license/equipment to unravel.  Certainly seems a “cipher” but is accepted by the FCC as “allowed.”  D-Star is another one that gets brought up as seemingly more a cipher/code than not.

Resolving what is “okay” and what is “not allowed” isn’t exactly straight forward, as a lot appears to depend on intentions. Some discussions can be found at

So I am not certainly going to be able to provide any guidance on what is truly allowed, and everything that follows I offer as for use in emergency only and not via ham radio unless you have received permission to do so.

One of the easiest and most secure if pads are kept secure is the one-time pad method of encryption.  You can find an example and information at Amrron

A very cool system that I have trained people with, is the Diana Cryptosystem.  Both parties need the same keys and while tediously slow the system offers decent security.  I’ve seen variants of the system used by professionals overseas when we captured their observers.

Here is a video:


And if you want to buy a wheel, you can get them here:

Effectively the same system can be done with lookup tables, and some military types memorize all the combinations so they don’t need wheels or tables.

I find it effective to make up a worksheet for encoding/decoding.  In my training five-letter groups are used and some exercises introduce common errors so the trainee has encountered them at least once before.

Some folks I’ve taught can be considered masters but unfortunately the system is slow and practice time consuming, so many run out of time/interest once they have the basics down.

As both parties need the same “keys” and “keys shouldn’t be reused, you need to figure out a way you want to handle your “keys.”  I’ve seen systems where short messages carry “pointers” to pre-encrypted messages and to the key to be used to decrypt them, which can make for a decent system that avoids ready decryption if someone else has them.  With enough information and technology that pre-distributed system will give up its message though.

In many ways encryption is about delaying the reading of your messages by others (as their computer cracking systems will need time to work through your system) and upping the resources required to break your code above the perceived value of information.

Good luck playing around and leave me comments if you want to learn more.  Everything I will teach is 100% publicly available, so don’t be afraid to venture out on your own in your learning.

Do remember that if it ends up in both unencrypted and encrypted forms on your electronic devices that your security has shrunk by several orders of magnitude.  Hence the focus on manual systems.




What Happens After an EMP Event (Natural or Man Made)

What happens after an EMP Event (Natural or Man Made)? A question that many preparedness-minded hams have contemplated, but hard data & facts are scarce.

An organization Government Attic,, asked througha Freedom of Information Act request what would happen to say FEMA, after an EMP event.

They received as a response “Mitigation strategies for FEMA command, control, and communications during and after a solar superstorm”, which paints a fairly grim picture of what could face all of us in not only a Solar Superstorm, but by interpolation what could be in store for society after a purposeful EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) event.

In summary “low-frequency, high-consequence events like the Carrington-Hodgson superstorm of 1859 or the Great Storm of 1921 have the potential for catastrophic impact on our nation.”

On page 7, the section “GPS: A Special Concern” is very interesting, as FEMA studies suggest the GPS system with its older satellites has a special vulnerability.

Pages 13 & 14 identifies areas of the USA that will struggle to keep the lights on during an EMP event. Ouch!

In terms of HF, FEMA early in document remarks that they consider HF a non-core communications segment for their needs, and last in document remark that part of the reason HF is not well used is “Lack of trained operators.”

So what can we take away as hams after a Super Solar Storm or other Major EMP Event?

  • Power will be unreliable to unavailable for segments of the country.
  • Excepting LEO (Low Earth Orbit) Satellites, the functionality of Satellite Based Systems like GPS will be compromised.
  • LEO based Communications (SatPhone) being a major communication method for FEMA and other government agencies may be “filled up” with their uses and needs.
  • The same government types seem to be “meh” about HF, so provided we are allowed to operate HF as it returns post event might be a very useful and uncrowded communications area.
  • Reading that the government leans to fiber for wired communications, hams may find an advantage introducing some fiber as an electrical “fire break” between their radio gear and the outside world.
  • Spare gear may be better protected if kept in shielded storage (Faraday Cage designs).

About five years ago I had added a bit of fiber to my main setup:

The the main QTH moved I built in the same with an underground run:

(I do keep spare electronics for this link in a shielded container, though I expect upstream the internet likely will take some time to come back up.)

While I do have some of the other issues and opportunities covered, it is time I brush off plans and revisit.




Thinking Ahead – When to Put Your Radios Away in preparation for Troubled Times

Another in the Thinking Ahead series started with

Considering “When to Put Your Radios Away in preparation for Troubled Times” one has to recognize that it is the nail standing proud that gets the next hammer blow.

If the situation is such that being on the air can cause trouble for you, it is time to put your radios away.

RDF (Radio Direction Finding) is a mature technology that will pin point your transmitter in situations where their are consequences for being on the air.  The military had Ground Surveillance Radar operators (GSR) who basically had a radar strapped to their chest to look for the enemy.  Well the enemy figured out how to ID the GSR operator and shoot them.  It was said that in the Vietnam War a GSR operator battle lifespan was measured in a few days.

So (surviving) GSR operators learned to displace themselves from their antenna, which seemed to work for a while, until the enemy got wise to the ruse.

RDF of receivers is also a reality.  In countries with TV license taxes their governments include the use of RDF in how they track down unlicensed TV receivers.  The way this work is receivers do emit coherent energy, which can be sensed.
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Thinking Ahead – Will you be White-listed, Black-list or Grey-listed through Emcomm as an Amateur Radio Operator

Another in the Thinking Ahead series started with

It has been a while since I continued this series, but current affairs seem to make it worth exploring again.  Suggest that the reader check out at least some of the initial batch of posts in the “Think Ahead” series.

In previous posts I discussed about “lists.”

Here I’d like to explore what are White, Black and Gray Lists, how you might find yourself on one or more, and what it might mean to you as an amateur radio operator.

Recap, what are lists?  While taught doctrine uses “White, Black and Gray” as labels more exact labels would be “Good Guys,” “Bad Guys,” and the “Unknowns.  Before anyone gets uptight about the taught labels, the were drawn from popular use in Western Movies and Books.

Who maintains the lists? The lists are arbitrary creations by the users.  They create the criteria and place people into their lists.  This means that while you might be “White Listed” for one agency, an agency that doesn’t know you will likely put you into a “Gray List.”

Who can see the lists? They are seldom published, with the exception of public listings that declare a label (“Domestic Terrorist” is one such “Black List” label we are seeing in the news right now).  For the most part you will usually only be able to infer which list you are one unless the list creator tells you or publishes your status.

Recap on what they mean:

White List – “Good Guys” like the cowboys wearing the white hats in the movies.  The ones you believe you can trust.
Black List – “Bad Guys” like the cowboys wearing the black hats in the movies.  The ones you know are untrustworthy.
Gray List – “Everyone Else” like the background people in the cowboy movies.  The people you don’t have enough information to classify into the White or Black List.

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Thinking Ahead – Importance of Plan-B as an Amateur Radio Operator

Another in the Thinking Ahead series started at

In this post I’ll discuss why having a Plan-B is important to an amateur radio operator.

What is Plan-B?  In ham terms we are talking about contingency planning in terms of keeping ourselves on the air.  A link for contingency plan definition can be found at 

In terms of our ham radio operations we can break down our Plan-B needs into a couple broad categories:

  • Equipment – Antennas
  • Equipment – Transceiver
  • Equipment – everything between Transceiver and Antenna
  • Equipment – Support items
  • Infrastructure – Power
  • Infrastructure – Internet
  • Physical – Shelter
  • Physical – Security
  • Physical – Mobility
  • Knowledge – Troubleshooting and Repair resources
  • Knowledge – Skeds (Schedules) and Frequencies
  • Knowledge – Expected QSO partners

Let’s dig in a little deeper, using questions for each area:

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What you know and what you don’t know in terms of Virus Preparations

If you are looking for a reference site on the Coronavirus, this is not it.  Rather I’d like to discuss what you know and what you don’t know.

Yup, I’m including you the reader in my limited knowledge.

First you know that you have a bad case of Normalcy Bias, and have it all the time.  Kind of comes with the territory of being human.  We like to think things are known, work the say way every time, and no matter what we will be okay.

Then you know that a very large part of the Virus information we are given is incomplete and inaccurate.  China didn’t go into large scale lockdown and shut down its economy over some 80,000 ill folks that they claim are all okay now and a 2.1% claimed death rate among the ill.  They didn’t mobilize to built instant-hospitals and weld the door shut on people in their apartments without a reason greater than what they have shared.  When our own government creates a Whitehouse led taskforce meeting daily and allocates $8-billion as an initial virus fund you know something more is afoot than a bad case of the flu going around. 

You know that when you look at what governments are doing, they are really concerned and are posturing to help the citizenry through some difficult times.  

We shouldn’t be surprised as this is why we have a government – to do the things for society through an aggregate action that society in a granular form cannot/will not be able to do.  

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