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Internet Number Station

By bgp4 in News
Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 02:37:56 PM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

If you're a shortwave radio junkie, you probably already know what the term "number station" means. If you're like me (an Internet geek who's never touched a shortwave radio) then you may not have any idea what a number station is, let alone why they're so cool. In short, the stations are either a complete hoax or the cheapest, best way to send encrypted messages to people all over the world. They've been around since the 40's, and still no one knows exactly what they mean. In the spirit of crypto advocacy, The Shmoo Group has set up it's own Internet Number Station. We've enciphered a message into numbers and are broadcasting it across the net. If you're the first to break the code, you'll win a free DVD.


Voxel dot net
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Related Links
o stations
o The Shmoo Group
o Internet Number Station
o Also by bgp4

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Internet Number Station | 11 comments (11 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
... (none / 0) (#3)
by stimuli on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 01:27:03 PM EST

stimuli voted 1 on this story.

And then there was one :)

The whole idea of a "number station" is just too deliciously creepy, but this idea of an "Internet Number Station" seems like a silly gimmick. I mean, it's nothing like a numbers station at all, just a ploy for an encryption contest with a few links to some conspiracy sites.

But, since we're on the subject, and this is loosely related to all the Gnutella and FreeNet talk, how far until we have real Internet Number Stations? Of course, done right folks won't know they're there at all. For all we know they're there now, but if so they're run by the wrong people. How soon 'till we need (and have) encrypted transmissions running on top of normal seeming HTTP and SMTP requests?
-- Jeffrey Straszheim

Not quite sure what this article is... (none / 0) (#2)
by fluffy grue on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 01:56:57 PM EST

fluffy grue voted 1 on this story.

Not quite sure what this article is getting at, but it's cool nontheless. :)
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

Cool. I love crypto stories. This... (none / 0) (#4)
by charsplat on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 02:15:18 PM EST

charsplat voted 1 on this story.

Cool. I love crypto stories. This one has a James Bond type theme to it :)

NPR program on this recently ... (none / 0) (#1)
by kmself on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 02:32:51 PM EST

kmself voted 1 on this story.

NPR program on this recently

NPR ran a program on this a week or so back, not sure which program it was, possibly "To the Best of Our Knowledge" or that really annoying MSFT-funded "Beyond Computers". Interesting story, though, and I've heard the numbers stations myself.

Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.

Re: NPR program on this recently... (none / 0) (#5)
by rusty on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 03:04:43 PM EST

I've got some mp3's of radio number stations, and every once in a while, when I have it on "everything, shuffle" one of the clips will come up between songs. It's always spooky. These creepy dead voices going:

"Four... Six... Seven.... Nine... One... One..." etc etc.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

DeCSS (none / 0) (#6)
by Anonymous Hero on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 04:06:00 PM EST

I'm kind of expecting them to broadcast DeCSS as one of those messages. Apart from being encryption-related, how else will people watch their prizes? :)

Re: Internet Number Station (none / 0) (#7)
by scriptkiddie on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 05:18:31 PM EST

Erm...Excuse me if I'm wrong, but I always thought number stations were just
English text with OTP encryption. It's simple enough that a spy could decode it
by hand, and infinitely powerful. You can't decode an OTP message.

Okay, so you want proof that number stations are OTP? I don't have it, but
here's a powerful argument for why OTP is used on number stations. The only
weakness of OTP is that an outsider can easily tell how much data you're
transmitting. Numbers are transmitted in a *continuous stream* on number
stations. Because there's _no way_ for an outsider to know when messages begin
or end, there's no way to figure this out. To put it another way: if I was the
CIA and I had to transmit a lot of messages to spies in the field using OTP,
I'd be *very* sure to read out numbers 24 hours a day, even if they're just
random things, so another agency couldn't tell how much data I'm transmitting.

There's no other excuse for these stations to transmit constantly, since
algorithms other than OTP mangle not only the data but also its size.

The upshot is that no matter how long you listen to this stuff, you're NOT
gonna find anything intelligible.

Re: Internet Number Station (none / 0) (#8)
by bgp4 on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 05:30:48 PM EST

The general assumption is that number stations are definately one time pads. By many accounts they are the most secure from of encryption out there (read some crypto resources such as "Applied Crypto" for a longer discussion). The fact that OTP's are basically unbreakable make them the ideal cipher to transmit in the open air, leave on billboards, announce on television, etc..

The contest that we (the shmoo group) are running is not using a OTP. We wanted something solvable. :) The main points of the contest are to raise awareness of number stations and crypto in general.

There is a encryption scheme that some eCompany is trying to push that involves a 660MB pad (size of a CD). Everyone gets the same pad, and the message is encrypted 12 times using a different starting point in the pad. They claim that even that is secure enough to broadcast around the world without fear of getting cracked. An interesting idea, but who knows if it will be adopted.

BTW: We realize that our number station isn't like the real number stations in the sense that you can trace back to the source. Ideally, in the long run, we'd run the contest through FreeNet or the OnionRouting network so we can obscure the source and make the transmission more mysterious. Thanks for all the feedback.
May all your salads be eaten out of black hats
[ Parent ]
Re: Internet Number Station (none / 0) (#9)
by rusty on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 06:12:23 PM EST

From what I've read on number stations:
  • The TLA's (three-letter-agencies) likely to be involved have more or less admitted that that's what they are (messages to field agents).
  • They have *got* to be one-time pads, because otherwise why would you admit that they're encoded? No fear in admitting it if you have a good random pad, cause no one's ever gonna crack them.
  • As far as anyone can tell, the numbers transmitted are truly random, which is another good sign of OTP.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
OTP Theory (none / 0) (#10)
by joeyo on Wed Apr 12, 2000 at 06:44:16 PM EST

Stupid question: How are these TLA's getting their one time pads to their field
agents?  If they ever use the same pad again it makes their encryption useless

"Give me enough variables to work with, and I can probably do away with the notion of human free will." -- demi
[ Parent ]

Re: OTP Theory (none / 0) (#11)
by shepd on Thu Apr 13, 2000 at 09:40:22 PM EST

If I were the CIA, I'd probably give an agent more than one OTP.  I'd probably
give a field agent that is to send weekly reports at least 100 different OTPs
before they leave for duty.  But that's just a guess.  :-)

[ Parent ]
Internet Number Station | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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