This is a pretty damn interesting tale unfolding.
You can piece together bits of it if you know there even is such a thing as ProxyHam and it was described as a $200 way to set up a really secure internet access route.
CSO Online has coverage of the mysterious cancellation of a talk at Def Con about ProxyHam, but here’s the gist from the article about how it works:
ProxyHam is a Raspberry Pi computer with Wi-Fi enabled. There’s three antennas; one is used to connect to a public Wi-Fi network, and the other two are used to transmit Wi-Fi signals over a 900 MHz frequency.
By using a 900 MHz radio, ProxyHam can connect to a Wi-Fi network up to two miles away, and blend-in with traffic on that spectrum. So if the person using it were to be tracked via IP address to a physical location, all anyone would find at that location is the ProxyHam box.
Wired has picked up on this odd disappearing technology, too. The describe its function this way – as using…
…a 900 megahertz radio to connect to an antenna dongle on a computer as far as 2.5 miles away. The result would be that an anonymous user could plant the ProxyHam in a library or coffee shop, then use that location’s Wi-fi via ProxyHam’s radio connection from the comfort and safety of their home. Any investigator who traced the connection would only find the ProxyHam’s IP address—not the user’s. “The KGB isn’t kicking in your door,” Caudill told WIRED last month. “They’re kicking in the door of the library 2.5 miles away.
Since we know the inventor of the project was all excited about it, and since we also read that DefCon wasn’t the group that was cancelling the talk and product intro, we can only reach one (obvious) conclusion: The big boot of government just landed on ProxyHam.
The problem the government has is one of balance.
True, a a product like ProxyHam could allow remote (*untraceable) internet access at 2.5 miles, any ham radio operator worth a plug nickel would notice that the demo model of ProxyHam shows several “rubber ducky” type antennas.
From our previous ham radio discussions, you know that a rubber ducky is a poor compromise antenna. They have negative gain compared to a simple dipole.
It’s likely that the government saw that any engineer or ham might be able to plug in a directional high gain antenna (ask me about my roll-up Yagi out of foil, which could be used under a place-mat at a table) and now – with high gain antennas at each end, you might be up to 10-miles line of sight.
As a tracking nightmare, this means that a circle 20-miles in diameter might be possible in a big city with a high-rise open access wifi network.
It’s a security nightmare…or is it?
Give me a $1,000 receiver and directional antenna to sniff-back to the source and I will tell you where ProxyHam is located. It’s called radio direction-finding, for crying out loud. Any security service worth its salt would have gamed this out. Back in the library door but leave the box up and trace the incoming signal. Geez, this is ham radio 101 stuff.
Lots of us ham radio types are already using protocols which are easily converted to TCP-IP and some, such as FS 10456-1051 Automatic Link Establishment go much greater distances..
In this kind of store and forward system, forget the limited range 900 MHz link. You can go to frequency agile high frequency use.
And to give you an idea of how robust this stuff is, and this is going from memory but not classified, an Automatic Linking system using just 100 watts of power was able to provide reliable 60 baud orderwire connectivity to a US embassy in a country whose name doesn’t matter, halfway around the world. OK, it was Australia from D.C.. 100 watts and about 80% of the time.
As ham radio types, setting up transmit/receiver buffering and moving data 2.5 miles is (sorry to say) pretty boring stuff. But we do need to acknowledge that there is a price/distance/performance nomogram out there which someone in government has probably built.
It’s possible that one concern is the price point – which might be considered “terrorist friendly” but on the other hand, we note that there are lots of wireless range extenders which with a few bucks worth of electronics and a few more for high gain antennas, might be able to hit the one mile (or better) range.
So we’re left with something of an analytic stumper to ponder this morning: 2.5 miles for $200 in parts pencils out to what? $80/mile?
A good ham radio rig, suitable for ALE use might be augmented with a used PC for protocol conversion and a wideband antenna for a couple of thousand dollars, say $2,500. But now you’re at 50-CENTS a mile at 5,000 miles, though data throughput would be low. Write a bigger buffer.
If you’re too lazy to do that, Kenwood’s SkyCommand system is pretty interesting, too.
I mean, I get it…a cheap way to be location untraceable is potentially a threat.
But among engineering professionals and ham radio ops, this stomp on ProxyHam seems like trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle.
It was the USGov itself that invented the long range data genie when the boys at MITRE and other places evolved the long-reach, nuclear survivable FS-1045-1051 specifications about 20-years ago…and that’s on Wikipedia.
And correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it the USGov itself that was passing out portable access points to all during the “color revolutions” of a couple of years ago?
This story is particularly troubling because of the US Constitution which is under vicious attack by those who would, among other things, in Gestapo-like fashion, monitor everything done on the internet with an eye toward enforcement of all government regulations including taxation and terrorism.
But this remains a cornerstone of the Founder’s Great Work:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
What I would offer to The Enforcers is the notion – a case for which might be made under the Constitution – that “the people” refers only to legal citizens of these (formerly) United States.
And there likely is no harm, no foul in monitoring those who are here illegally – like all those OPTM (Other Than Mexican, many of which are Middle Eastern baddies) who have snuck over the border are are likely planning their next evil deeds even as we speak.
I suppose the reason Ures truly never went to law school, and thus is not sitting on the Supreme Court (or a FISA court, for that matter, LOL) is that I would lump all internet communications as off limits under “papers” covered by the 4th.
But only for citizens, not for foreigners.
And this is precisely why I wrote in my book Broken Web: The coming collapse of the Internet that at some point, we would be forced into a system of government licensure just as the Great Depression saw the seizure of the public airwaves (once also free) under the Communications Act of 1934.
Licensing of the web is something that will come almost inevitably. There are too many people who hate us.
And besides, maybe the ProxyHam project was killed because it might step on Part 15 of the FCC regs.
But if it is, a simple retooling to FCC Type Approved GMRS transceivers would be possible, and if ProxyHam returns using a different frequency, then we will know/suspect it was a spectral use call.
Selling unlicensed transmitters is a huge no-no and people can go to jail for it. It’s also why if I ever sell a piece of ham gear, I look up the other party in the ham radio database to make sure the person is who they say they are.
Use of spectrum, Type Approvals, and Part 15 is my #1 pick for why ProxyHam was pulled. Threats of prosecution and jail time, perhaps.
Otherwise, we’d be inclined to expect it was a national security call by people who don’t fully appreciate how out of the bottle the genie has been for the past couple of decades.
And when they realize how open source the world has become, it means licensing will be along, almost for sure.
On a slightly different topic, a long time back, I asked a colleague in Europe who had developed something approaching a “monitoring proof” communications system for the internet some very hard questions.
One of the questions was along the lines of “Why are you developing such a hardened system…it’s it only terrorists and those out to create mayhem who would ultimately use it?”
Haven’t heard back from him. Sent a whole list of ethics kinds of questions for Peoplenomics readers. Zip. Bupkis. Maybe people in tech don’t like hard questions that get to loyalties and core values. But it was my job to ask.
Part of me says an honest person – a law abiding type – such as you or me, has nothing to fear from such things as ProxyHam’s short-term demise.
But its inventor’s case that it would facilitate whistle-blowing is also legit – and as the WikiLeaks and Snowden papers show, government’s behavior – contrary to claims – is not always above board, and honest itself.
That said, only a fool would think it to be possible to operate in a crooked world,, without some crooking on our side. We didn’t make global behaviors, but we do have to live here. Sometimes we have to play in the gutter to take care of business.
But the really egregious sins of government – creating ISIS and the GunWalker case…those kinds of moves…show government can’t can’t be trusted to get things right all the time. Getting things right even some of the time would be an upgrade in here.
The concern this morning is ProxyHam is another example – because government doesn’t like getting egg on its face, even if well-deserved.
When we live in a country where people routinely lie to Congress (take Hillary’s “I never got a subpoena” remark, please) the breach of faith between We the People and They in Government doesn’t yet appear to be narrowing.
And that is at our peril.
Write when you break-even