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Communications Hardware Hacking The Military

Brazilian Pirates Hijack US Military Satellites 359

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the because-they-can dept.
blantonl writes "Brazilians all over the country are using modified amateur radio equipment to communicate with each other using US Military communications satellites — effectively creating their own CB radio network on the backs of the US Military. Recent efforts to crack down have resulted in arrests of some of the users, however the behavior still continues today."
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Brazilian Pirates Hijack US Military Satellites

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  • Wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:41AM (#27661395)

    That's a lot of pirates.

    • Re:Wow (Score:5, Funny)

      by x_IamSpartacus_x (1232932) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:54AM (#27661637)
      You're not kidding. The FSM in all is noodley wisdom is cracking down on global warming. We keep seeing Pirate stories and we keep seeing stories showing how Global Warming isn't happening like this [slashdot.org] story yesterday.
      ALL HAIL FSM!

      ~Touched by His noodley appendage~
      • Re:Wow (Score:5, Informative)

        by blantonl (784786) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @08:48PM (#27669695) Homepage

        Come on folks, this is a serious news article :-)

        I've spent a tremendous amount of time listening to these bootleggers on the FLTSATCOM satellites. It is rather easy for them (the Brazilians and others) to modify a amateur radio or other transmitters to use these satellites.

        Basically, these satellites work by listening on one frequency (an uplink), and rebroadcasting what they hear over a specified frequency bandwidth to listeners (a downlink). The uplink and downlink frequencies are well known and published across many mediums - including Mil-Std documents which specify how terminals should interact with these satellites.

        I published a spectrum analysis article on this very topic here (shameless plus):

        http://radioreference.blogspot.com/2008/10/vhfuhf-spectrum-analysis-using-rf-space.html [blogspot.com]

        This method of communication is actually very secure for the US Military - since they rarely use clear voice on these transponders - meaning, they encrypt all transmissions to and from.

        Now, an open repeater, in Geospacial orbit, provides a set of repeaters for anyone to use... either the US military (which they still actively use) - or others who have equipment that can transmit to, and reiceve from.

        For those that are dismayed by this approach, understand that when this technology was developed, security by obscurity was a common approach even for military agencies. It wasn't feasible even 10 years ago to "authenticate" use access to open satellite transponders.

    • Re:Wow (Score:5, Funny)

      by SQLGuru (980662) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:59AM (#27661719) Journal

      See, this is why Pirates beat Ninjas. What story have you read talks about Brazillian Ninja's taking over satellites? Somalian Ninjas hijack cargo ships? None, that's how many.

      • Ninja (Score:5, Funny)

        by evilkasper (1292798) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @12:04PM (#27661805)
        Ninjas don't leave evidence nor any other trace , kinda part of being a ninja. See if a Ninja hijacked a ship they'd also erase all traces of its existence; yes they are very thorough. Then after they were done with that they'd whip out an electric guitar and rock hard. (all my assumptions are based of 80's Ninja movies)
      • by Khashishi (775369)

        That's because ninjas are invisible.

      • Re:Wow (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @12:07PM (#27661865)

        Pirates are only in the news because they're sloppy. Ninjas would have killed whoever found out before they found out then covered up their tracks. You obviously don't know anything about ninjas, you should go do some learnin' before you anger a ninja, I suggest here [realultimatepower.net] (realultimatepower.net) to get the real deal.

      • Re:Wow (Score:5, Funny)

        by stoicfaux (466273) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @12:37PM (#27662359)

        Excuse me? Have you not heard about the Bermuda Triangle, UFO abductions, or Income Tax? All the work of ninjas.

        • Re:Wow (Score:4, Informative)

          by causality (777677) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @12:50PM (#27662627)

          Excuse me? Have you not heard about the Bermuda Triangle, UFO abductions, or Income Tax? All the work of ninjas.

          I was with you right up until "income tax." The income tax is proof that there is a Satan. An income tax is much more complex and labor-intensive than all other forms of taxation. It's also much more prone to cheating compared to excise or sales taxes. The only reason for having one is so that you can use carrot-and-stick methods to manipulate the population ("do something we like, get a tax credit; do something we don't like, pay more"). That's the only "benefit"; otherwise it is inferior in every way to all other forms of taxation.

          If the pirates support a national sales tax to replace the income tax, then I have to say they are better than the ninjas! That's too bad, because the Bermuda Triangle and UFO abductions were pretty good. Maybe the ninjas were framed and manipulative social engineering isn't really their fault!

          • by sean.peters (568334) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @01:28PM (#27663251) Homepage
            Much of the parent is misleading or false.

            An income tax is much more complex and labor-intensive than all other forms of taxation.

            It's true that our current income tax system is complex... but it's hardly true that this is an essential feature of income tax systems. We could have a simple income tax system, but we've chosen not to. Similarly, excise and sales taxes can be complex, and some of them are... at the very least, they vary wildly from state to state and product to product.

            The only reason for having one is so that you can use carrot-and-stick methods to manipulate the population ("do something we like, get a tax credit; do something we don't like, pay more"). That's the only "benefit"; otherwise it is inferior in every way to all other forms of taxation.

            This is utterly ridiculous. The reason for having an income tax is that it can be made progressive (in other words, you can make rich people pay proportionally more), in ways you can't with sales/excise taxes. That's the benefit of an income tax system... and yes, it is in fact a benefit. The carrot & stick effect is by no means exclusive to income taxes, either - excise taxes on, for example, cigarettes, are explicitly a stick being wielded against tobacco use.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Rob the Bold (788862)

              It's true that our current income tax system is complex...

              This is certainly an exciting off-topic thread. We really ought to have a poll/discussion on the merits of different forms of taxation!

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by ShieldW0lf (601553)
            I was with you right up until "income tax." The income tax is proof that there is a Satan.

            Close. MONEY is proof there is a Satan. Income tax is proof that he has a sense of humour.
          • Re:Wow (Score:5, Funny)

            by anothy (83176) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @01:50PM (#27663691) Homepage
            the income tax does nothing to prove Satan. giving part of your earnings to the community is an altruistic gesture, is found throughout human history, and may even be biologically wired into our brain, inherited from our ancestors.

            no, the IRS proves Satan.
    • by freedom_india (780002) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @12:43PM (#27662479) Homepage Journal

      If i pirate Music with these Satellites, does the RIAA sue the US Navy for "facilitators of illegal downloading" ?
      I would be thrilled to read in the newspapers the next day that RIAA lawyers were water boarded 183 times by the marines...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      That's a lot of pirates.

      So now, we will refer to anyone who does anything we don't like as "pirates"?

      I guess they were getting tired of using "terrorists", "muslims" and "liberals" all the time.

  • 2 options (Score:3, Interesting)

    by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:42AM (#27661417) Homepage Journal

    It sounds like the feds have 2 good options:

    1) Shut down this capability. This may involve shutting down the birds.
    2) Find a way to charge for it

    Oh, and maybe a 3rd:
    3) Replace the satellites with something secure and sell the birds to someone else and let them worry about it.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:58AM (#27661693)

      ...would be to give the crews of these satellites some weapons to fend off the pirates.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AmiMoJo (196126)

        It's a bit OT but interesting to note that (as far as we know) Russia is the only country ever to arm a satellite. One of their military space stations (Almaz?) had a cannon which apparently test fired, destroying another satellite.

    • Re:2 options (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DrBuzzo (913503) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @01:00PM (#27662757) Homepage
      This has been done. The only reason this can be done is the satellites are depreciated. They're not used anymore but they're still up there. If they were in use they'd be saturated with encrypted content. They're not.

      These are really just dumb repeaters that were devalued in the 1990's. The last one was launched in 1989 with a planned life of five years.

      It's not clear whether they can be shut off as they likely no longer respond to telemetry commands. They may also just reset every time they lose sunlight as their batteries are long long gone and so any darkness would force a shutdown and restart on sunlight.

      If this were a huge security issue they could flood the satellites with noise to make them unusable.
  • Pirates (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fisticuffs (1537381) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:43AM (#27661431) Homepage
    What exactly are the "pirates" pirating? Does mere communications count as "piracy" now?
    • by langelgjm (860756) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:47AM (#27661493) Journal

      Bad geek! It's called Pirate radio [wikipedia.org], and it's been around longer than the Pirate bay!

    • Re:Pirates (Score:5, Informative)

      by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:49AM (#27661547) Journal

      What exactly are the "pirates" pirating? Does mere communications count as "piracy" now?

      They may be extending an older term referred to as Pirate Radio [wikipedia.org] which referred to the 'piracy' of radio frequencies. But how can you steal a frequency? :)

      Keep in mind this term was around long before internet piracy and I'm guessing they are extending this concept to illicit satellite usage that is very much like a broadcasting communication technology. The military might not be needing these satellites to remain silent just like the FCC doesn't absolutely need silence on all non-allocated radio bands.

      Remember, almost every word has baggage before you pick it up and use it. Even worse is the fact that that baggage is very much subjective.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        But how can you steal a frequency? :)

        By letting scallywags grabbing bandwidth from the landlubbers.

      • by Cowmonaut (989226)
        You can "steal" anything scarce, and a radio frequency is technically a scarcity since you (typically) can only have "one" signal going on the frequency. If you have multiples you tend to get interference, bleeding, etc. Note that I'm using "one" a little figuratively here (multicast transmissions etc) since I'm too lazy at the moment to grab the exact sources to whore my Karma.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by QuantumRiff (120817)

        Interesting.. the Wikipedia entry had this:

        In Europe, Denmark had the first known radio station in the world to broadcast commercial radio from a vessel in international waters without permission from the authorities in the country that it broadcast to (Denmark in this case). The station was named Radio Mercur and began transmission on August 2nd 1958. In the Danish newspapers it was soon called a "pirate radio".

        I never new how the name "Pirate Radio" got started. That makes sense...

      • Re:Pirates (Score:4, Informative)

        by Deadstick (535032) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:01PM (#27663879)
        But how can you steal a frequency?

        By transmitting on it.

        rj

    • Re:Pirates (Score:4, Informative)

      by causality (777677) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:51AM (#27661589)

      What exactly are the "pirates" pirating? Does mere communications count as "piracy" now?

      Never heard the term "pirate radio" before?

      I'll explain this in terms of the USA. To broadcast on many frequencies (such as those picked up by a standard AM/FM radio) with any appreciable transmission power (i.e. more than about 300 feet) you are supposed to have an FCC license for that frequency. Pirate radio is what they call it when someone makes a powerful unlicensed transmission on such a frequency. Usually this is done in order to get a message out, particularly a message that "the Establishment" (if you will) or the mainstream would find counter to its interests. Remember that arge media conglomerates such as Clearchannel tend to own most or all of the radio stations in a given area.

      So, this deal with the US military satellites involves a "pirate signal" in the sense of an unauthorized transmission.

    • One word answer (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sean.peters (568334)

      They're pirating bandwidth, which is an extremely scarce commodity in a military situation. Bear in mind that even a small ship has something like 300 people onboard, and most of them have some considerable amount of official business in sending e-mails, making "phone calls" (voice radio transmissions), sending/receiving teletype data, exchanging sensor/intel data, etc, etc, etc. When some of the available bandwidth is "pirated" (for lack of a better term) by folks who really need to talk about the performa

  • The article points out how the original hardware is susceptible now just based on current technology catching up to 1970's technology:

    Until then, the military is still using aging FLTSAT and UFO satellites -- and so are a lot of Brazilians. While the technology on the transponders still dates from the 1970s, radio sets back on Earth have only improved and plummeted in cost -- opening a cheap, efficient and illegal backdoor.

    It kind of reminds me of video game consoles. With the advent of computers, it became possible to emulate things like the NES and SNES on your computer as those consoles became outdated and your CPU could easily emulate the chipset in those devices. With the Dreamcast, it seemed like they still hadn't learned their lesson as there was little to no-copy-protection on the m

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by moon3 (1530265)
      still using aging FLTSAT and UFO satellites

      Those UFO satellites might be dated, but the technology on board sure isn't.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Viol8 (599362)

      Yes, but even in the 70s they had the tech to build in at least some sort of encoding required before the channel would be opened for you even if it was just some sort of DTMF. Sure , people would still be able to hack it but they'd require extra equipment that perhaps wouldn't be available off the shelf in truck stops.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cgenman (325138)

      Wait, what? Modern piracy of SNES and NES games didn't hurt their sales at all. Copy protection in those days was the fact that you couldn't make a copy of a cartridge (disk systems excluded). You made your money, and things worked. NES piracy was rampant by the time the N64 was ready, and they still didn't care enough to make a serious attempt to copy protect those cartridges.

      The industry was and is focused on *current* copy protection, as everyone is well aware that all systems will eventually be crac

      • by tepples (727027)

        Copy protection in those days was the fact that you couldn't make a copy of a cartridge (disk systems excluded).

        You could mass-produce counterfeit Game Paks for the Famicom if you had a way to fabricate printed circuit boards and ROM chips. That's part of why Nintendo put the 10NES lockout chip in the NES and in NES Game Paks.

    • by kabocox (199019)

      Systems like the PS3 and Xbox360 have learned from this but it is arguable that soon (if not already) that will be cracked and emulated. The military should take note of this battle as now that communication with satellites has become cheap, they are facing the same cat and mouse game. So they have two options: either attempt to crush it politically (like Brazil's Operation Satellite) or live with it and prepare mitigation plan.

      Um, the point of military secured communications satellites are to provide only

    • by Artemis3 (85734)

      Until then, the military is still using aging FLTSAT and UFO satellites -- and so are a lot of Brazilians. While the technology on the transponders still dates from the 1970s, radio sets back on Earth have only improved and plummeted in cost -- opening a cheap, efficient and illegal backdoor.

      Why would something like this be illegal to another country? The Brazilian gov should simply ignore this and let the Americans solve their own incompetence.
      I find this very cool and should simply be left alone until the

  • It'd be interesting to see how they did it, I'd love to be able to try it out, except i suspect that all I might hear would be Portuguese and the sound of black helicopters swooping in...
    • Re:Crazy (Score:4, Informative)

      by the coose (171981) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:56AM (#27661681)
      One standard amateur VHF transceiver, one frequency doubling circuit, one reasonably high gain antenna. And possibly some satellite tracking software. All easily available.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by alen (225700)

      forgot the frequencies, but you should be able to find them by googling. you just need something that can transmit and receive on those frequencies.

      back when i was in korea we used to pick up ABC and a few other TV stations with Army FM radios because they supported a few civilian frequencies.

      didn't work in europe because over there their freqs end with an even number, in the US they end with an odd number. look at any radio station and the freq will be an odd number in the US

    • Re:Crazy (Score:4, Informative)

      by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@co[ ]ll.edu ['rne' in gap]> on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @12:27PM (#27662219) Homepage

      Based on the description in the article, I'm guessing the sats in question use linear transponders similar to many of the AMSAT Oscar (AO) satellites.

      http://www.amsat.org/amsat-new/information/faqs/langdon.php [amsat.org] has info on some of the AMSAT satellites.

      It sounds like the security of the "as designed" military system was implemented at the endpoint radios with no satellite involvement. For 1970s satellites this makes sense - keep the satellite (the REALLY expensive part) simple, unfortunately it does make the system susceptible to illicit use and jamming.

  • by Animaether (411575) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:45AM (#27661465) Journal

    read up, whoever tagged this story with "!pirates"
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_radio [wikipedia.org]

    piracy has widespread meanings, from the somali crazies type pirates to software/music/movie/etc. pirates to pirate radio communication.

    just like hacker vs cracker, that battle was 'lost' many decades ago, probably before you were even born.

    • What I want to know is, what's up with the "hardhack" tag? Did the Brazilian pirates go into space to mod the satellites?

      Because if this story involves space pirates, it's even more awesome than I thought.

  • Back in the day.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Subgenius (95662) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:46AM (#27661481) Homepage

    I remember when those birds used to pickup terrestrial FM stations. You could listen to the downlink 'in the clear.' This use of military satellites goes back to, at least, 1978.

  • a lot of channels are open to everyone and not encrypted due to the need for the ability for ships in trouble to call for help over an open channel

    these are just your regular frequencies and not anything special. for the encrypted channels you need the key to communicate.

    • I'm not familiar with ship to shore and ship to ship communications, but do ships call for help by bouncing signals off of US military satellites? I know that GPS satellites were originally military so there is a precedent for deriving benefit from military satellites.

      Its a big deal because the birds are the sole property of the US Navy and they don't like people playing with their toys without permission.

      That being said, the satellites are a boon to illegal activity (focus of the article. Lets ignore c
      • by CraftyJack (1031736) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @12:36PM (#27662341)
        Ships call for help using a 406 MHz EPIRB. The signal is picked up by the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite network and relayed to a local SAR station. The 406 MHZ beacons are a big improvement over the old 121.5 and 243 MHz beacons, as they support identification and GPS data. The old beacons basically just scream "Help!".
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:49AM (#27661555)

    You really can hear rare birds in the rainforest!

  • 40 year old tech? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DomNF15 (1529309) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:50AM (#27661561)
    With defense appropriated funds accounting for a large chunk of the USA's annual budget, you'd think they could use something newer than 1970's era technology for long range com...wouldn't the time/money/resources spent on busting the "pirates" be better spent on a new (secure) system?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GweeDo (127172)

      We are getting ready to go back to the Moon on 60's era technology...why should the military be any differnet?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Shawndeisi (839070)
      I think you missed the part where the United States is not the government cracking down on the pirates.
      • To amplify on this (Score:4, Informative)

        by sean.peters (568334) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @01:43PM (#27663547) Homepage

        Mod parent up. The US is, in fact, building a replacement satellite system (as discussed in TFA). Also, the US is not spending the dollars to bust these guys - the Brazilians are (at our behest, as also pointed out in TFA).

        It's also important to note that the 70's technology in question was designed and launched... in the 70's. It's not like we put those birds up there yesterday. As also noted in the article.

        In conclusion: read the article before posting (I know, I must be new here).

  • by tekrat (242117) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:56AM (#27661669) Homepage Journal

    Costs a buck an ear!

    HAHAHAHAHAH

    I kill me.

  • This makes me want to run out and buy some new HAM gear so I can talk for free to Brazilian bikini models! "Tu amore!"
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ColdWetDog (752185)

      This makes me want to run out and buy some new HAM gear so I can talk for free to Brazilian bikini models! "Tu amore!"

      If you would have bothered to RTFA, you would have discovered that the primary users of this system are truck drivers and loggers.

      But whatever floats your boat....

  • How old is the FleetSat platform they are hacking? Some of these birds have been up there a long, long time. Like way before commonly available electronics allowed any jose hacker to reach a satellite. Something to consider before bashing the Navy about an unsecure link. As an ex-AF guy, I can tell you that that last allowable pounds put on a MEO or HEO satellite are station keeping propellant. Just look at the mars rovers to see how long many space craft outlast their design lives.
  • . . . until the US Navy SEALs parachute into your backyard.

  • There's absolutely NO WAY that ANYONE can hack into a US Government satellite or computer system.

    It's like Colbert says, the bible is true because the bible says it's true.. what part of that logic do you not understand???

    --thrill

  • by Skuld-Chan (302449) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @12:16PM (#27662025)

    Asides from the fact that these operators were way outside their respective allowed band, they did no harm as these satellites aren't even used anymore by the US-Navy (for whom they were built). They should repurpose them for civilian use if possible - which would be cool as they are geo stationary.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nsayer (86181)

      Asides from the fact that these operators were way outside their respective allowed band, they did no harm as these satellites aren't even used anymore by the US-Navy (for whom they were built).

      BUZZ!!!!

      Oh, I'm sorry, you're incorrect. Thank you for playing, we have a lovely parting gift of TFA for you to read on your way home.

      Here's an excerpt:

      One week after the "Operation Satellite," Brochi met with Wired.com at a gathering of amateur radio enthusiasts in a bucolic square in Campinas, about 60 miles north of Sao Paulo. Brochi switches on his UHF receiver and scans through the satellite frequencies.

      It's relatively quiet now on the satellite underground, except for the static-like sound of encrypte

    • That is utter BS. (Score:3, Informative)

      by sean.peters (568334)

      Asides from the fact that these operators were way outside their respective allowed band, they did no harm as these satellites aren't even used anymore by the US-Navy (for whom they were built).

      I'm recently retired from the US Navy, and I guarantee you these satellites are still in use.

  • W.T.F. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @12:37PM (#27662363)

    "If a soldier is shot in an ambush, the first thing he will think of doing will be to send a help request over the radio," observes Brochi. "What if he's trying to call for help and two truckers are discussing soccer? In an emergency, that soldier won't be able to remember quickly how to change the radio programming to look for a frequency that's not saturated."

    What if he's shot in the field and the *enemy* saturates all the frequencies? This should have been secure from the get go, anything less is criminal.

  • Let them (Score:5, Funny)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @12:41PM (#27662423)
    We get their soccer team and call it even. Deal?
  • by evilkasper (1292798) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @12:48PM (#27662577)
  • by hackel (10452) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @01:00PM (#27662763) Journal

    If the incompetent soldiers at the U.S. Navy can't figure a way to secure their own satellites, why should the citizens of another country on the other side of the planet be prosecuted, fined, or worse, merely for sending out a radio signal that happens to match the same frequency the U.S. military used? This is insanity. It makes me angry that the Brazilian government is cooperating at all with the U.S. Defence Department in targeting these individuals. They should be protecting them! If a U.S. soldier is wounded in the field and is unable to radio for help, he or she should curse himself first, for joining the military, and second his idiot government for designing such an insecure satellite.

    I hope more Brazilians and others from around the world get in on this act! Perhaps there's a way we can use it to multicast data as well, that would be brilliant!

  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @02:39PM (#27664587) Homepage Journal
    Once you know the basics of how these birds work it's not a surprise that people are hijacking transponders for their own use. Anybody can hook up a scope to a dish and scan the sky/spectrum for an unused transponder. Then they just need to broadcast on that transponder and the bird will happily relay it back to Earth. Most birds are just bent pipes, they don't have the kind of smarts you would need to authenticate a signal before retransmitting it.

    The reason this isn't common is because the satellite operator will eventually notice the extra power drain on the transponder and will pinpoint the offending transmitter fairly quickly (a few hours to days). Then it's a fairly simple matter to send the authorities to impound your pirate equipment. That appears to be exactly what happened here, although the satellite operators were lazy about tracking down the pirates and let them operate for a fairly long time.

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