Category Archives: Thinking Ahead Series

Thinking Ahead – Protecting your Digital Signature as an Amateur Radio Operator

This series started with https://k9zw.wordpress.com/2019/09/10/im-a-ham-or-am-i/

Protecting your Digital Signature as an Amateur Radio Operator is a rather complex and esoteric area for most radio amateurs.

To keep this article simple I will avoid getting into the technical reasons what your Digital Signature looks like or why it is often exposed.

Digital Signature can be likened to the radio equivalent of a “finger print” – first there is the general smudge of a print, perhaps where not expected, and then with analysis the detail of the print can be used to identify the person it came from.

RDF (Radio Direction Finding) is another aspect, one that deserves separate discussions.

Both your Transmitter AND your Receiver have Digital Signatures. Some of your other gear may also have a Digital Signature (routers, computers, monitors) but we will focus on your radios.

Specialist gear can sort out which particular piece of gear is in use. In many cases the gear doesn’t have to be specifically transmitting, as most gear has enough low level emissions to identify..

Adding to the fun, your natural voice also has its own unique “finger print” which can be picked out. Some claim that there is enough variation in the sending of Morse Code to also identify a particular operator.

So what are the ways you can mitigate the situation?

Against a dedicated effort to find and identify your station, perhaps not much.

But there are some techniques that will draw down the exposure.

Gear-Off, disconnected and shielded when not in use – these simple steps will largely mitigate the non-use exposure. Some trainers recommend ammo cans or other near Faraday Cage storage, fully deenergized and disconnected of course. The idea is your not-in-use gear cannot be resonated or otherwise identified.

In this vein antennas will be a concern, though training is usually not very complete on what to do about antennas and feedlines.

Operate-Displaced – this usually considers your gear as something that would be “given up” rather than “defended” by physical distancing.  If your gear allows it and the internet will allow for a VPN to station, you could be anywhere operating stationary stations.

Transmit and Run – here being the idea that after short transmissions you move your station prior to being RDF and Identified.   Against a professional team you will be trading their speed against your speed, and as for Identifying most likely they have that very quickly anyway. To make a run you may have to leave your antenna and even feedline (or other hard to disassemble gear) making a sort of hybrid with “Operate-Displaced.”

Mask your Digital Signature –  added processing and circuitry can obscure the unique identifiers.  Some training suggests using text-to-speech to use synthetic voicing for phone operations, under the premise that unique identifiers are not known to be carried by these computer voices.

Rotate between Resources – using several stations and several speakers for phone, or several programs for digital.  Change it up enough, recognizing that while those opposing you may figure some of it out, the variety makes their analysis (especially automated analysis) less straight forward.

Use the Signature to Advantage – If you watched the movie “V is for Vendetta” the protagonists all wore the same masks, making it hard to pick out any one individual.  Replicating your Digital Signature across several stations could similarly be effective.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Thinking Ahead – Changing your habits for personal privacy and anonymity as an Amateur Radio Operator

I’m a Ham or am I? When to be noticed and when to be unnoticed, and much much more!

One should always remember that as a ham, you are already “on a list” in an official sense.  It is that “list” that records your callsign.

But there are times when it is useful to have more personal privacy and perhaps a bit of anonymity.

Physical Addresses:

If you look through listings (QRZ.com or FCC searches) you will find plenty of hams who use a either a work address or a Post Office Box address. If you do this out of concern for your privacy consider whether you should use the same addressing for purchases, as

In many areas a tax search on your name can locate your QTH, but again you see people using trusts or LLCs to sort of throw a drop-cloth over their QTH, often followed with using a Post Office Box address or Business Address for official records.

Unless you are willing for forgo your cellphone, drive a pre-OnStar era car, and go to some fairly involved efforts fully shielding your QTH’s location is not going to happen.

What you are targeting instead to make your location less searchable in casual search attempts.

And remember if you start communications from your actual QTH it won’t be an uncompromised “safehouse” anymore!  In most cases that really isn’t a big issue, as long as you remember that your QTH will be a known “Radio Active” place.

Personal Privacy:

You make your choices whether to put your callsign on your license plates, wear “ham radio hats & clothes” or to take a less obvious stance.

One one hand we are enjoined to promote our hobby, offer Elmering tutorship and encourage others, though we seldom pause to think that we lost part of our personal privacy the moment we share our callsign.

It is perhaps impossible to completely maintain personal privacy and be a licensed & active ham.

Anonymity:

This is all about You!

Some personalities end up being standouts and memorable whether intended or not.

People remember extremes and emotional responses.

If your vehicle bristles of antennas you become obvious.

So if you are super tall, you will struggle to maintain anonymity – you can do it but it is hard and requires extra efforts.  Squeaky or kettle-drum voice are ones that get noticed.

Attire can make a difference, as I once knew a salesman who called on me regularly  always wearing a goofy hat, as he was otherwise rather anonymous.  Decades later I remember his hats, but not his face or even his name.

In “Prepper Circles” they speak of become a “Gray Man” as the idea of becoming someone who isn’t seen as a standout externally despite having skills, capabilities and resources that would otherwise be noteworthy.  Usually the prepper-logic is being a Gray Man helps keep troubles from finding you.

All in all maintaining personal privacy and anonymity as an amateur radio operator is challenging and by definition can never be 100%.  But you do not have be totally revealed either!

73

Steve
K9ZW

Thinking Ahead – Countering the Nefarious as an Amateur Radio Operator – Part I

This series started with https://k9zw.wordpress.com/2019/09/10/im-a-ham-or-am-i/

With the recent FCC admonishment to the Amateur Radio community to “not commit crimes using amateur radio” begs first the obvious question asking what is up with the FCC, but it is the second question of “what can we do to help?” that is of more importance to the radio amateur.

How can we “Counter the Nefarious?”

Reality is the segment of society involved in ham radio may share some commonality, but also includes a wide enough swath to have a few bad actors in the bunch.

Some are garden variety troll-type folk who act out on the air, online or are just schadenfreude in real life.  The majority of these folk are pretty easy to identify and not very hard to keep away at arms length or further.

But here and there a few actual nefarious people join the ranks of amateur radio or make it their business to interfere with a ham. Lets call these “In the Ranks” and “External,” and have a look at what a ham can do.

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Thinking Ahead – Active Countermeasures for Security, Privacy, and Anonymity Exposure as an Amateur Radio Operator

The series start with https://k9zw.wordpress.com/2019/09/10/im-a-ham-or-am-i/

Okay, active countermeasures are a different level of action intended to enhance your Security, Privacy, and Anonymity Exposure as an Amateur Radio Operator.

Suggestions here are mostly low-tech, as we are not going to pretend we will spoof voice-printing and transmitter-technical-identification.

What the goal is will be to provide served agency services while avoiding compromising your personal and family security, negating your privacy and completely losing your anonymity.

Why?

Reasons range from physical security to reducing your personal exposure when the legal (or political) jackals decide to see who they can take a bite out of.

The list is not comprehensive, and is intended to get your thinking down the paths that will preserve your security, privacy and anonymity best.

Your Personal Transponder:

First is almost all of you are carrying a personal transponder. Yes, your cell phone. Having an awareness that if the cell system is up, you are located and identified is important. While not commonplace, it is possible that this information drifts out to where you might not like it.

Your strategy might be to turn off and shield your phone. Or leave you phone at home and use a burner-phone while activated. Or go phoneless.

Your Transport Transponder:

If you vehicle is contemporary it will have one or more transponders active. On-Star is one. Other telemetric systems may be active or it may respond if “pinged.”

Countermeasures include removing the gear (difficult if recently built), shielding the transceiver parts, or feeding the system misinformation.  Easier is to use a pre-transponder vehicle.

Remote Transmissions:

If conditions allow and you have the ability to work remote, your physical presence may be obscured.  In warfare often the transmit antenna or antenna/transceiver for some systems is displaced from the operator for exactly this sort of reason.

Obscured Transmissions:

Going digital comes to mind, as does using a phrase-based system to convey information.  Makes more sense to transmit “Cowboy sees Mouse” – a phrase that is NOT encoded and means exactly what it says, and then have a cheat sheet where you can see that “Cowboy” means a certain operator. “sees” means is nearby or at a location, and “Mouse” means “Main House.”  Sort of like when the XYL says a few words and you “know” the bigger meaning…

 

73

Steve
K9ZW

Thinking Ahead – Mitigating Security, Privacy, and Anonymity Vulnerabilities as an Amateur Radio Operator

This series started with https://k9zw.wordpress.com/2019/09/10/im-a-ham-or-am-i/

This post we are talking about mitigation – the passive reduction of vulnerabilities to your Security, Privacy, and Anonymity as an Amateur Radio Operator.

As previously mentioned avoiding the use of your call sign by using either a club or if appropriate a tactical call sign.

This is more effective if not on phone (SSB/AM/FM) as your voice doesn’t give you away.

In general it may be useful to ID at the legal widest time spacing.

Also a good time to lose your Callsign hats, pins, badges, jackets and maybe pick a vehicle without ham plates. Many EmGov/Emcomm outfits supply credentials – ours hangs around your neck – but there is no emphasis on checking these very closely and the general public or other agencies likely have never seen them.

I know of a ham who if activated for real plans to use his old pickup, while strategically parking his vanity callsign plated daily driver at his home where it can be seen at his QTH, with the idea that it shows the boss is in.

More to follow,

73

Steve
K9ZW

Thinking Ahead – The differences between Security, Privacy, and Anonymity as an Amateur Radio Operator

The Thinking Ahead Series started with https://k9zw.wordpress.com/2019/09/10/im-a-ham-or-am-i/

Security, Privacy, and Anonymity in terms of ham radio are interesting concerns.

Anonymity is pretty much a lost cause, unless operating using tactical call signs. These alternative call signs may be authorized in an emergency or may be used less officially in times of duress. Tactical Call Signs aside, if you are using your own call sign every time you identify you lose your anonymity. This may make a case for using say the club station call to remain anonymous. Our local club had W9DK as a call, and perhaps you using W9DK-Tiger and W9DK-Bear for different club activation entities rather than you own call sign.

Why the anonymity?

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