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Hardware Hacking Transportation Build

Collecting Private Flight Data On the World Economic Forum Attendees With RTL-SDR (qz.com) 88

An anonymous reader writes: Every year politicians and business men meet at the World Economic Forum in the small mountain town of Davos, Switzerland to discuss various topics and create business deals. This year Quartz, an online newspaper/magazine sent a journalist to the forum tasked with writing a unconventional story about the forum: he was asked to monitor the private helicopter traffic coming in and out of Davos from transponder broadcast of ADS-B data. Using an $20 RTL-SDR dongle, Raspberry Pi and ADS-B collinear antenna they monitored the flights over Davos. From the data they were able to determine the flight paths that many helicopters took, the types of helicopters used and the most popular flight times.
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Collecting Private Flight Data On the World Economic Forum Attendees With RTL-SDR

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  • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Wednesday January 27, 2016 @02:30PM (#51383377) Homepage

    This is what Flightradar24 [flightradar24.com] uses. A little more expensive box, but no big deal.

    And any executive person should be aware of this and not attend major events like the World Economic Forum in their private aircraft but instead travel incognito. Use Business Class and make sure that the clothing is not standing out. If you have a security team - make them look like a mix of tourists, business men and airport service personnel. (Who actually cares about the person pushing the airport wheelchair around?)

    As soon as you have a helicopter you are standing out as a VIP like a polar bear in a kindergarten.

    • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Wednesday January 27, 2016 @03:32PM (#51383783)

      What's the point of being filthy rich if you still have to mix with the commoners?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You can block identification -- I see blocked flights pretty regularly on FlightRadar and I presume its either a presidential candidate, some government executive-type, some prisoner transfer/rendition, or some nefarious corporate executive up to no good.

      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        And in that case you stand out even more.

      • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Wednesday January 27, 2016 @05:02PM (#51384447) Homepage Journal

        Top Tips:
        Become invisible to police officers by sticking your hands in your pockets and looking up at the sky while whistling.

        GZ0275 HMP Broadmoor.

      • by ShaunC ( 203807 )

        Both FlightAware and FlightRadar24 give all aircraft owners the ability to "cloak" themselves, from Air Force One right down to your dentist's 172. You don't have to be a bigwig and there's no reason to suspect that a blocked flight is doing anything nefarious. Often times I'll see an aircraft that's opted out on one but not the other, so it can serve you well to check both. Also, there are several hobbyist type amateur radio tracking projects that log ADS-B hits and nobody opts out of...

        The aircraft that a

        • That's why the reporter was there in person. He's on the hobbyist path to see through the VIP cloaks. Doing this is trivally easy. I set one up with a rPi in about 20 minutes using PiAware. Many options out there-
          • by ShaunC ( 203807 )

            Yep, this Reddit thread [reddit.com] and a previous one linked therein breaks down the parts needed. Building a robust and capable receiver for around $120 is within reach even without a soldering iron. We've come a long way, baby!

    • Use Business Class and make sure that the clothing is not standing out. If you have a security team - make them look like a mix of tourists, business men and airport service personnel. (Who actually cares about the person pushing the airport wheelchair around?)

      I was going to say that you read too many spy novels, but maybe you write them?

      And never, ever, trust anyone dressed as a priest. At best he's probably an assassin in disguise.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        Shit! You're on to me.

        No, really... Sort of... I'm a secular Buddhist and sure as hell not a monk. But, I can certainly look like one. I do actually own a few sets of monk's robes (kasaya - I think that's spelled properly). I also travel. I like to travel a lot and sometimes I go places that I probably should not go. Wearing the kasaya has lots and lots of benefits - people are genuinely happy to see you pass by, if I don't want to talk to someone I can just point at my lips and smile and shake my head, and

    • Not that I'm against these things on principle, but it seems a bit ironic that people here on /. are up in arms against government monitoring, while gleefully doing their own spying when it comes to it ;-)

      As soon as you have a helicopter you are standing out as a VIP like a polar bear in a kindergarten.

      A polar bear in kindergarten would not so much stand out as tuck in, you know.

  • Monitoring these transmissions will soon be illegal just like they did for the 900Mhz cell frequencies.The wealthy and power people who attend Davos people value their privacy very highly and will go to great lengths to protect it.

    • by Predius ( 560344 )

      To be more specific, it's not illegal to listen to the 800mhz cellular freqs. All the FCC could do was stop the commercial sale of new equipment that was able to hit those freqs. Got pre-ban equipment, listen away. Make your own, congrats!

      • That ban needs repealing. Analog AMPS hasn't been used in forever [wikipedia.org], so that spectrum is no longer used for what they originally enacted the ban for. The digital replacement is/should be encrypted, so no ban is needed.

  • by Larry Lightbulb ( 781175 ) on Wednesday January 27, 2016 @02:38PM (#51383437)
    I'm guessing that once the story is widely known there'll be calls to arrest him, even though he's using publicly available data and equipment and not doing anything wrong.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why should I give a flying fuck about helicopters over the World Economic Forum? The quality of stories on this site fucking sucks nowadays. Bring back Taco!

  • by dfn5 ( 524972 ) on Wednesday January 27, 2016 @02:43PM (#51383469) Journal
    Who else read the title as "We brought an antenna to Davros"?
  • I predict these VIPs will be outraged at the invasion of their privacy and the follow up article will be to expose their hypocrisy over supporting the invasion of privacy of us plebs, but nothing will change in the long term.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I thought I had read that many of them were already outraged and many had taken the step of registering their planes with shell LLCs so that existing flight trackers and tail watchers couldn't decode who was on the plane.

      If they look it up, all they get it something bogus like "AirplaneHoldings23, LLC, a Delaware Corporation, Proxy Manager, John Smith, Esq."

      It's the same gambit the super rich do for high dollar real estate so that the transactions and ownership are completely opaque.

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        I thought I had read that many of them were already outraged and many had taken the step of registering their planes with shell LLCs so that existing flight trackers and tail watchers couldn't decode who was on the plane.

        If they look it up, all they get it something bogus like "AirplaneHoldings23, LLC, a Delaware Corporation, Proxy Manager, John Smith, Esq."

        It's the same gambit the super rich do for high dollar real estate so that the transactions and ownership are completely opaque.

        Well, part of the gambit

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A few years ago, RenderMan did a great presentation about how scary ADS-B is and how easy it could be manipulated to do things like cause air traffic confusion or obfuscation of flights that certain people want to be secret. http://youtu.be/mY2uiLfXmaI

  • Using an $20 RTL-SDR dongle, Raspberry Pi and ADS-B collinear antenna they monitored the flights over Davos.

    Maybe, now these guys will update the rules for these communications to be encrypted...

    • by DaHat ( 247651 )

      Maybe, now these guys will update the rules for these communications to be encrypted...

      ADS-B is the 'new' standard which is in the process of being rolled out... so that's not too likely.

      • It's an air traffic control signal. The point of it is to tell air traffic control 'Aircraft flying over here! Here's my identification, altitude, heading and exact location. Please don't hit me.' Without the ability to decode that information all air traffic control gets is the rough position off of radar. So no, it's not going to be encrypted. It's possible a future version will introduce authentication, but only as a measure to prevent saboteurs jamming up air traffic control by spoofing planes that don'

        • by DaHat ( 247651 )

          Except that only the ATC system really 'needs' this information, you and I do not (granted it is still fun to use/see)... which makes the lack of protection of the data even more surprising.

          Given the decade+ rollout that the US based system is to take, it's pretty unlikely that midway through they will turn around and say "on second thought, you need to upgrade to this even newer standard in order to be compliant"

          There are of course other ways to get much of this data. A quick visit to http://www.liveatc.ne [liveatc.net]

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Other airplanes need to see the data. TCAS leverages this data for collision avoidance in the cockpit.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            Except that only the ATC system really 'needs' this information, you and I do not (granted it is still fun to use/see)

            As a pilot, I certainly do need to see that information. ADSB data is an extension of the "see and avoid" concept, where the pilot has a responsibility for situational awareness and is the ultimate controller of his aircraft.

            It's nice when ATC issues traffic advisories, but is required to do so only for IFR traffic. VFR traffic can ask for "flight following", but that service is "workload permitting" for the controller, and VFR traffic without flight following get NO traffic advisories except the ADSB da

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Further, why would we want to hide this data when you can also estimate these things with visual cameras? Think about it, you can correlate height, speed and distance using laser targeting and waypoints. You can OCR aircraft identification information from a high megapixel image. Add drones and you can follow them from landing spot back to destination.

        All you would be doing is enforcing encryption on something like a HAM radio network. The information is meant to be public, why waste cycles on encryptio

    • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

      You do realize they still use unencrypted AM radios to communicate right? And why bother encrypting when you would have to give everyone the key? They broadcast ADS-B for safety as even today over 100 years from the first flight planes are still pretty dangerous. If you don't give a shit about safety go ahead turn your transponders off. Why not shut off the TCAS too for good measure? Planes flew for years without any of that new fangled not crash tech and while they won't immediately fall out of the sky if

  • by shocking ( 55189 ) on Wednesday January 27, 2016 @04:08PM (#51384031)

    I can seen the airport of my nation's capital from my balcony. I have a similar setup logging the position reports to a PostGIS DB, which allows some interesting queries ("Give me all the position reports found beneath a certain altitude within a certain polygon that describes a runway, sorted by airframe and timestamp") which allows you to determine what planes landed and took off.

    Looking up who owns the aircraft can be done online, and it's funny when something owned by a holding company in the Caymans flies in. Now if only there was an online API that allowed one to query the visitors list for the legislative bodies, one could tie the data together, along with the record of votes cast, and jump to some intriguing conclusions.

  • All ADS-B ever seems to do is tell me the blindingly obvious, like the airplane holding short right in front of me waiting to take off.

    I find VFR flight following to be much more useful.

    ...laura

    • You must not have ADS-B out (or are flying in boring airspace). Swing over to NYC's Bravo and try it on a nice weekend - it's lit up like a Christmas tree. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's saved my bacon, but it's pretty handy to know exactly where to see and avoid. And there's no "workload permitting" caveat like with flight following.

  • tl, dr.

  • I'm sorry, but who gives a shit? ADS-B is totally public info broadcast over an open standard and available to anyone with an antenna. The software is bog-standard and all this has been doable for at least 10 years. It's so bog-standard there's a large community doing this on a routine basis for more than 2 years [flightaware.com] (and that's only one example).

    Of course, before that you could tune to the local ATC frequency (it's just an AM radio) and listen to position reports.

    Next this guy will be listening to the local cab dispatch frequency and telling us he can find people who have called for a ride.

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