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Encryption The Military

UVB-76 Explained 222

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-don't-feel-better-about-this dept.
Useful Wheat writes "Recently slashdot covered the reappearance of UVB-76. The function of the mysterious transmitter has been revealed: UVB-76 is used to transfer orders to military personnel, along with the time at which they should be executed. 'Words for the radio messages and code tables are selected mainly from the scientific terms of chemistry (Brohman), Geology (ganomatit), philology (Izafat), geography (Bong), Zoology (kariama), history (Scythian), cooking (drying), sports (krolist) and others, as well as rare Russian words (glashatel).' The page continues to list all 23 transmissions that have been made from the station in the past, showing that UVB-76 may be more active than believed."
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UVB-76 Explained

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  • Wait... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Pojut (1027544)

    so....so the Ruskies are running SkyNet?

  • by blizz017 (1617063) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @10:59AM (#33382038)
    Uhh.. wikipedia only states that it's speculation; like everything else about UVB-76, this is unconfirmed.. so in reality it still isn't explained. What a crappy submission.
    • by exley (221867) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:11AM (#33382184) Homepage

      If you read down further in that article there is a section that states "According to an archived Russian webpage (purportedly written by the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces), UVB-76 is used to transfer orders to military personnel, along with the time at which they should be executed." The citation for this, however, is an unavailable Wayback Machine archived page. Maybe it's being Slashdotted now but it's not helping the veracity of these claims. Yeah, this is a crappy submission. All it links is a Wikipedia page and nothing of substance.

      The fact that Taco submitted this is a nice reflection of the declining state of Slashdot submissions -- if Taco doesn't give a fuck, then why should anyone else?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:13AM (#33382218)

        I'm just waiting for someone to update the citation needed on the Wikipedia page to point to this slashdot submission, at which point it will forever be cemented as fact.

      • by dk90406 (797452) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:53AM (#33382658)
        And if you read further down, you'll see that it may be used for atmospheric studies. So it is just a science station where some bored or drunk guys sometime "messages" for the hell of it.
        Just like the teenagers of other planets sometimes sometimes "Buzz" earth. (Ref. Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy)
      • by Artifakt (700173) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:06PM (#33382858)

        I've argued earlier that the limited number of transmissions and their brevity doesn't support a military mission. Naturally I'm relieved that this claim appears to be possible disinformation or an unsupported fabrication, as that makes me look less wrong. But, at the risk of being eventually proven solidly wrong, I'll go out on a limb. Military ops normally require a lot more communications than this. 33 short transmissions spread over several decades is so obviously less than needed to support a series of ongoing combat operations that I can think of much better candidates. The profile fits a small network of spies (where small = 1 to 4 or 5) who are highly skilled and ideologically dedicated (presumably to modern Russia). These wouldn't be cheap, low level spies who were citizens of the investigated nation, doing their work for the sort of pay the Russians can manage, but well motivated, able to operate with a minimum of strategic level guidance, and not needing constant reassurance from their handlers to be useful. Probably they are all Russian citizens and came up through the system via a military or former KGB route so their loyalty is presumed solid. It's also likely they are doing long term data gathering, for example reporting on Strategic level government decisions or Multinational level business, and are free to persue a line of enquiry they think is reasonable, within limits set at lengthy intervals by these messages.

        Other possibilities:
        1. They (or equally likely just he or she), may be in a place where it is exceptionally difficult to get them more modern communications gear, new code books, or other physical contact, hence the Russians are relying on a very old system. Agents in North Korea, for example, might entail this difficulty.
        2. The antenna is operationally attached, not to a particular agent, but to a particular country (see #1 above). Russia probably doesn't have a lot of ongoing espionage activity in some small out of the way countries, i.e. Iceland, or New Zealand. 33 messages in many years might fit their overall commitment to spy on such regions rather well.
        3. Or, the transmitter is used only for a particular data type. It's easy to jump to these communications being something spectacular and 'James Bondian' such as assassination orders, but this system might be used just to broadcast instructions for what to do when a spy uses a dead-drop system and something happens to the message before the receiver can pick it up, or to give a basic physical description whenever someone has to contact an agent they don't know by sight. Either of those triggers would give the sort of highly irregular pattern of transmissions we see here.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Pranadevil2k (687232)

          Since we are talking about the possibility of the transmissions being related to espionage missions, it is likely that the transmissions sent from this station (if they were indeed for that purpose to begin with) are NOT the only form of communication available to their field operatives. UVB-76 could be used to signal operatives to change their other communication methods, to switch mission objectives, to begin or end a specific operation, or any of an ungodly number of other tactical possibilities. I don't

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by netsharc (195805)

          So where does Evelyn Salt come into all this?

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by mindwhip (894744)

            News just in...

            Changes in UVB-76 tied to viral marketing campaign for new film. Cash strapped Russian government deny any knowledge.

            In other news Russia announce new road building projects.

            • by geekoid (135745)

              That would be genius. Find an old numbers station, pay the owners a bunch of cast to a couple of ARG codes.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by geekoid (135745)

          "Military ops normally require a lot more communications than this"

          not for a go.

        • I think you've been reading too much Le Carré. Time to file away that old copy of Grimmelshausen.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Agreed.

      Actually, when /. had the article about UVB-76 going offline [slashdot.org], I searched for more info about UVB-76. I found this site [google.com]. If you compare that site to the Google translation of the Wikipedia "source" [google.com], you can easily see that they're not to dissimilar. There is no new information here, and no information has been confirmed.

    • Occam says... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jeffmeden (135043)

      Occam's Razor:

      Option A) The numbers station UVB-76, in operation for almost 30 years, was used solely to send a grand total of 23 military orders of very short length.

      Option B) The numbers station UVB-76, is used to fuck with the West. Military orders are broadcast on Russian cable TV.

      I have to say, I am leaning toward option B.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by moogied (1175879)
        Two things. 1. ITS *WILLIAM* of Ockham. Ockham was his home. 2. Thats not what William's idea was. His idea was that the solution that has NO leaps is always correct. Both of your options require leaps of faith. You have no direct proof of a situation so you assume a likely story. We don't know its used for anything at all beyond transmitting a signal. So trying to answer that with no real evidence is directly going against William of Ockham's theory. In short, you used the wrong idea to present your argu
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Aighearach (97333)

          In reference to the razor, both spellings are correct.

          And BTW, learn how to read! Even wikipedia could have resolved your gross misunderstanding. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_razor [wikipedia.org]

          The requirement is not no leaps of faith, which would translate to, "nothing is ever correct unless it is already 100% proven." That would have been totally useless and never would get cited.

          No, instead, what he said was, "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily." Note the key word, "unnecessarily."

          The mhttp://tech

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        They just sent 4 8 15 16 23 42

  • by PadRacerExtreme (1006033) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:00AM (#33382044)
    So it must be true then!
  • That recipe (Score:5, Funny)

    by esocid (946821) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:00AM (#33382052) Journal
    for borscht just got a whole lot sexier.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by gstoddart (321705)

      for borscht just got a whole lot sexier.

      Borscht doesn't need to get any sexier!! :-P

  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:02AM (#33382080) Homepage Journal

    Is the basis for this story really the Wikipedia page which cites as its primary source a Geocities web site?

    Forgive me for being skeptical.

  • Great Article (Score:5, Interesting)

    by discord5 (798235) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:04AM (#33382108)

    A wikipedia page, and a link to an old slashdot article. My, it's good to have standards in what goes on the front page.

  • Credibility? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ksevio (865461) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:05AM (#33382116) Homepage
    The article here is actually wikipedia which states:

    Despite much speculation, the actual purpose of this station remains unknown to the public, but it is probably used for relaying military orders.

    Later in the article there is a section speculating about military use but that's all using an old geocities page (in Russian) found in web archive. Would be good if there was something a little more authorative on the subject.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      It's being broadcast from a military base. It's purpose is known,. To communicate information to military personnel.

      It doesn't' take a genus, or even a web page, to figure that out.

      • Re:Credibility? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by tftp (111690) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:32PM (#33384628) Homepage

        It's being broadcast from a military base. It's purpose is known. To communicate information to military personnel.

        There is one big problem with this theory - lack of said information. 30 messages over several decades are laughably insufficient. They wouldn't be enough to even arrange delivery of food to one base, on any given day.

        As far as I know, most of information in armies, starting from 60s and up to this day, is transmitted over telephone or teletype or computers. The transmission channels are usually buried cable (copper or fiber,) radio relay (at a few GHz,) and the satellite. Many of these channels use encryption. HF is basically not used much because of the required antenna size, power, and limited channel capacity.

        HF has larger range (tens of thousands of km) but that is not always an advantage, especially among the military. That's why most of the radio links are V/UHF and microwave; they are harder to intercept, you need a satellite flying overhead. If the microwave link uses high gain antennas (which is not unusual) then most of the energy is in the beam, and not much is in side lobes. If you set up the link with two dishes and use just enough power to reliably communicate, radiation to the side will be far below the noise, especially if the satellite doesn't have a high gain antenna. Use CDMA to further make life difficult for the eavesdropper.

        So where the HF may be of use?

        Theory 1: The HF may be chosen because it is received all over the world.

        This is untrue. The HF propagation depends on many factors, such as time of the day and state of the ionosphere and the location of both ends of the link. Only the ground wave is stable, but it is limited to a couple hundred km radius. Since the messages are rare and not repeated for 24 hours, we can presume that the transmission is intended for receivers that are hearing the signal all the time. They can't be far away.

        Theory 2: The HF may be chosen because this is a beacon to monitor propagation conditions.

        This, IMO, is true. This explains the buzz - it is a convenient, simple signal that can be used to detect which way (around the planet) the signal is coming from (and also to see if you receive it from both directions.) The messages are of no consequence; they can be just a test of the microphone or of the entire system. Since there is no confirmation of reception of messages (which on HF is essential) I think the transmitter and the receiver had a parallel telephone link, and the receiving end reported over the telephone when the message was received. Perhaps the message itself was random. Some messages were clearly sent by a technical personnel from the transmitter room, not by a trained speaker in a studio.

        Most of the speculation about the messages themselves is also ridiculous. For example [googlesightseeing.com]:

        The names used in the message are used in some Russian spelling alphabets, and spell out the first word - "naimina", which one commenter at the UVB-76 blog translated as "on names".

        This "translation" is wrong, the word "naimina" is random and has no meaning. This message can be anything. It was repeated twice within a minute. Any HF operator here can tell that you need to be pretty sure about the quality of your link to do that - the message was repeated only to allow the receiving end to check the message, not to tune to the signal or to fiddle with the filter or to rotate the antenna... (well, a beam antenna for 4 MHz would be large, but not impossible.)

        Some say the buzz is a "dead man's switch." It could be, but not likely. First of all, there are no backups, and any transmitter has to do down occasionally, at least for maintenance - 100 kW final stage is not a joke, you don't change vacuum tubes that are under live 25 kV. There could be a backup transmitter in the same building, of course, but even then there probably ar

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jwhitener (198343)

          I wasn't sure what a "beacon station" was, so I looked around. I couldn't find the term "beacon station" but did come across "electric beacon" and "radio beacon".

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_beacon

          So your guess is that the constant buzz is used for navigation? Maybe like a backup for GPS or other ways of navigating?

  • Dude (Score:3, Funny)

    by jewishbaconzombies (1861376) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:06AM (#33382126)
    re: "geography (Bong)"

    Is this code given out at 4:20?
  • by nbauman (624611) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:18AM (#33382292) Homepage Journal

    You: Gorgeous redhead, red dress, big brown eyes, smile like an angel.

    Me: Nerdy-looking guy in torn dungarees and blue T-shirt

    You came up to me in Starbucks at 47th St. and Eighth Ave. and said in a golden voice, "Excuse me, but haven't we met in California last year?"

    I said, "Uh, yeah. maybe."

    You turned around and disappeared on Eighth Ave.

    Please, please call me on UVB-76.

  • In soviet Russia Speculations from wikipedia issue orders to you

  • Fuck You Taco (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This shit is worse than the cesspool refuse that kdawson posts. Fuck you.

  • by mike449 (238450) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:25AM (#33382358)

    This particular submission may be crap, but the situation around UVB-76 demonstrates that it is becoming hard to keep any secrets on the shortwave band. There are thousands of listeners at any given time. And what is much more important, they now have the ability to record big chunks of spectrum and analyze it in a way that was only available to government agencies not long ago. $500 receiver (there are even sub-$100 DIY alternatives) and free software is all you need.
    The next big step is exchange of such information. It may be outright illegal (UK) or borderline legal (US) to tell other what you've heard, but people do this more and more on various forums. Now including /.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by xMilkmanDanx (866344)
      Except if you're using one use cyphers it doesn't matter how public the broadcast is or how much of the broadcast is recorded as long as the cypher remains secret.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745)

      Yu don't keep secret on the shortwave band, never had. You use it to broadcast coded messages.

      IT's been monitored by Hams forever. My grandfather listen to certain number stations in the 70s.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        You can keep secrets on ham bands and all shortwave bands. you just use channels not commonly in use and for short burst transmissions, stenography, hidden messages, etc...

        Heck, hide in plain sight. Broadcast your "secret" on a SLow Scan old WEather sattelite channel and imbed your information in the image of the earth from the last pass. Chances are that it will be ignored as nobody would say "Hey... that old sattelite went over for this pass already!"

        Hide in plain sight. works great.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Isn't that just what I posted?

          lets check:
          "You use it to broadcast coded messages."

          Why, there you go. Next time read pas the first 8 words.

          And sure, you could go through all those hopes..but instead, just use a one time pad or a variant.

          Hide in plain sight does not work for people who are trained to look in plain sight.

    • You don't even need a shortwave radio to listen in anymore. There are dozens of shortwave radios hooked up to web servers located all over the world running WebSDR, [utwente.nl] allowing anyone with an Internet connection and little to no knowledge of radios to hear this kind of stuff.
    • Deciphering the Code (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tobiah (308208) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @01:02PM (#33383538)

      The codes read out on UVB-76 are a bunch of unrelated words and numbers, which reminds me of the codes we'd use back when I played rugby, and similar to how baseball codes work. Most of the content of our calls were nonsense, thrown in to confuse it. We'd designate ahead of time, for example, that the third and fifth words were the meaningful ones, or simply mix in non-code words with the codes, although there was always some syntax (order mattered). Similarly we'd memorize calls our opponents used in lineouts and scrums, and try to parse them out at halftime. A halftime code crack almost always meant winning the game by a good margin.

      So my guess is that not all of the UVB-76 code is meaningful, but there's an underlying template which is probably switched between transmissions. Still crackable, but can it be cracked before the game is over?

  • by houghi (78078) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:44AM (#33382552)

    for the military personnel that will be executed just because somebody send them an order.

  • It's actually a psychological attack on the West. The numbers and such are completely random and meaningless, they're trying to make all the amateur radio guys paranoid, chasing their own tails trying to figure out what it all means OMG TEH COMMIES!!!!11!
    • by geekoid (135745)

      "...amateur radio guys paranoid"

      You are being redundant.

  • Yo mean to say (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:46AM (#33382588) Homepage Journal

    A military broadcast from a military base was for military personnel? I'm shocked I tell you, shocked.

    • by malakai (136531)

      I read someplace, back when this station first stopped transmitting, how it had been tracked down within Russia to be a scientific installation. It's broadcast were used to measure some some sort of distortion or atmospheric change on radio waves, possibly coinciding with something to do with the sun. The frequency is broadcast on was even found registered in some book and referenced in some scientific papers published in the 70s/80s.

      I just spent about 15mins looking for the articles I read about this and I

      • by geekoid (135745)

        It's where about are known, and it's on a military installation. 56458N 37522
        And yes, when ever something changes at a numbers station, the wackos pollute Google.

        It is THOUGHT that this was original a Dead Hand switch for a second strike. Meaning that if the US nuke the Soviets, the buzz would stop broadcasting and there Nuclear Launch would automatically happen. While it is a fact that Russia had these, it is unknown if this was one.

        dead Hand Was brought about buy the US arming Subs with Nukes that could g

  • Military? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PPH (736903) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:06PM (#33382848)

    This seems rather odd, broadcasting military orders in the clear. OK, they are using a code. So we don't know what they are saying. But military units usually have encrypted transceivers. If I were designing a military radio system, I would not include a clear broadcast mode to eliminate the possibility of some critical information going out that could be easily intercepted.

    I'm guessing that these broadcasts are targeted at people who can not reasonably be expected to carry secure radio gear with them. Like spys. In some countries, possessing crypto equipment can get you arrested. In many, it will attract undue attention. So they use shortwave. Everyone can get their hands on a shortwave receiver. And there's always the plausible deniability of tuning to BBC when you're not receiving orders.

    The continuity of the broadcasts can easily be explained as a method to thwart traffic analysis. Most of the stuff they broadcast is garbage, just to keep the traffic going. If one broadcasts only when orders are to be sent, then the enemy can deduce that something is afoot when traffic picks up. Its possible that UVB-76 may not have issued an order for years, but is being kept alive 'just in case'. If they only powered up the transmitter when they needed it, that would be a dead giveaway that sleeper agents were being activated.

    • by bendodge (998616)

      The continuity of the broadcasts can easily be explained as a method to thwart traffic analysis. Most of the stuff they broadcast is garbage, just to keep the traffic going. If one broadcasts only when orders are to be sent, then the enemy can deduce that something is afoot when traffic picks up. Its possible that UVB-76 may not have issued an order for years, but is being kept alive 'just in case'. If they only powered up the transmitter when they needed it, that would be a dead giveaway that sleeper agents were being activated.

      It also makes it really hard for the sleeper agents to know when they're being activated.

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        Yes, except they know what change to look for that means 'you've been activated' that pretty much everyone else will ignore or not notice.

        Just because it appears to be the same message broadcasting over and over again doesn't mean it is, it just means you haven't noticed a change. That doesn't mean the intended recipient didn't notice the signal, just that you didn't.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      ...targeted at people who can not reasonably be expected to carry secure radio gear...

      Don't forget, the signal is also streamed [mixstream.net] over the Internet. For those spies who cannot reasonably be expected to carry unsecure radio gear.

    • by DG (989)

      As someone who has written his fair share of military orders over the years, and then subsequently transmitted them over a radio, this is highly unlikely to be a military orders station - and for one basic reason:

      An order broadcast into the aether is useless. An order must be confirmed as having been received and understood.

      Where's the "Ack"?

      DG

    • by geekoid (135745)

      One time pads.

      Station are kept active to reserve the freq for their use.

      There is no difference between having a constant buzz, occasionally broken with a sequence, and restarting the broadcast with a sequence. In both cases, a pattern was broken.

  • by kelarius (947816) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:07PM (#33382880)
    I believe that this numbers station is actually a countdown timer for the army of robots created by the soviets in the 80s. When the buzzing sounds end and another codephrase is sent the army will rise up from their vaults that were placed strategically around the world by traveling vacuum salesmen and spread the glorious message of communism, with lasers.

    I for one welcome our new robot overlords...
  • I doesn't seem like anyone has attempted to find digital data in the 'buzz' described in the article. If you look at this spectrograph [wikipedia.org], you'll see that the buzz consists of many discrete tones, not just a simple buzzing sound. This looks to me like an implementation of one of many multitone digital modes [kb9ukd.com] like MT63, MFSK16, Olivia, Throb, Piccolo, Domino, etc used on HF.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      It looks to me like harmonics on a waveform with sharp corners (i.e., a buzz, not a beep).

      It certainly doesn't seem to have any pattern reminiscent of digital data, and given how long ago it started, and how susceptible the signal is to amplitude noise, I highly doubt they were using multi-valued bits in the encoding.

      • by Muad'Dave (255648)

        Agreed it looks like harmonics, but they have changed the buzz over the years. It would be interesting to analyze a few hours/days/years of it to see if there are changes in the pattern. Of course I'd have to look for phase changes as well as bits going missing.

  • OK, the submission is a pile of BS, but it's a good place to discuss UVB-76. So...

    I have been wondering if anyone has looked at the frequency of the beeps themselves. They're about a second or two apart, but do they vary at all? It occurs to me that the average beat timing could be a carrier, and a (very slow) frequency modulation on top of it would be a subtle way to inject other messages.

    Anyone?

    • It's changed a few times, but it has essentially just been broadcasting the same thing for decades, excepting the spoken word transmissions.

      Subtle encoding are completely useless for number stations, so it's unlikely it does that anyway. The point of number stations is that they broadcast to huge areas using shortwave, in easily recordable formats. This way, agents in foreign territory can use basic shortwave radios that can be found anywhere, and decode the messages using the one-time pads they are issued

      • by swordgeek (112599)

        No, I realise all of that--I've been following the numbers stations for years.
        The thing is, UVB-76 has always been a bit of an anomaly, since it's _not_ broadcasting obvious information 99.9% of the time. It's bugged me for a long time that this station has been broadcasting for 30 YEARS, and has only had about 90 seconds of useful information. That's some serious overkill there!

        Now it may be that it's being used primarily for ionosphere research, and is usurped by the government for important messages. It

    • by blair1q (305137)

      That's a better guess than the spectographic analysis [slashdot.org]. FM is far less susceptible to noise. And you could easily build a pulse-timing receiver out of parts you find at Radio Shack.

      But that limits your activities to places with stores like Radio Shack (or akihabara [intio.or.jp]).

  • UVB-76 must be the new and improved version of the CRM-114.

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