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Powerline Networks Interfere With Spooks? 85

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i'm-ok-with-that dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Powerline technology which ships network data over mains cables could be causing interference for spies, according to a letter from the UK's top secret listening station, GCHQ. However, the British regulator says that objections to powerline all come from radio amateurs — and a Google search reveals that the writer of the letter (which GCHQ seems to be disowning) comes from a ham."
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Powerline Networks Interfere With Spooks?

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  • by airconswitch (2038108) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @12:37PM (#36156094)
    SENTRY SAPPIN' MY SPY?
  • by chemicaldave (1776600) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @12:41PM (#36156174)
    Here [ban-plt.co.uk] is the original GCHQ release mentioned in TFA.
  • The Government Communications Headquarters is fortifying its defences in the war against hackers...which, for all they know, could be YOU!

    Don't try anything funny...but, don't worry, if you aren't doing anything wrong, there is nothing to worry about.

    Keep calm, carry on...just always know YOU are being WATCHED.
  • This is just begging for someone to come up with a SheevaPlug-style jammer that dumps random onto your power lines.

    • by v1 (525388) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @01:00PM (#36156522) Homepage Journal

      This is just begging for someone to come up with a SheevaPlug-style jammer that dumps random onto your power lines.

      Unfortunately, lots of household appliances already do that.

      Looking at the above comments, I think a lot of readers are interpreting it as the 'spies' are using the power lines as antennas. It's more like coax. Like those baby monitors you plug in the receiver in the bedroom by the crib, and plug in the receiver in the kitchen/living room/bedroom, and set it to one of several provided channels, and it uses the power wires within your house to help carry the signal. This has the advantages of using very little power, providing very clean audio, and works anywhere in the house with no loss in power. And also doesn't radiate much.

      But if a spy sticks a wall wart in an outlet in a room with a bug in it, it can transmit easily to several other houses in the neighborhood with a receiver plugged into the wall in the same way. There are also bugs like that which are integrated into the outlets themselves so you don't even see them from the outside. Traditional over-the-air bug sweepers have a harder time finding them because the transmissions are very low power, because the transmitter and receiver's antennas are basically touching.

      It'd depend on the receiver being used, the frequency chosen, and a lot of other factors, as to just how much BBOPL interferes with such a device. I'm sure some wouldn't be affected while others would be rendered useless.

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        But if a spy sticks a wall wart in an outlet in a room with a bug in it, it can transmit easily to several other houses in the neighborhood with a receiver plugged into the wall in the same way.

        No. The transformers that downconvert the higher transmission voltage to the household voltage are very bad at carrying RF upstream. Powerline RF works only on things fed by the same transformer.

        BPL requires special hardware to get it past the large transformers, and ends at your transformer. It gets put on fiber or copper as a normal network there.

        It'd depend on the receiver being used, the frequency chosen, and a lot of other factors, as to just how much BBOPL interferes with such a device. I'm sure some wouldn't be affected while others would be rendered useless.

        BPL won't appear as RF on your outlets, it won't interfere with anything using your household wiring. What it DOES do is radiate from the high tension lines a

  • BPL (Broadband over Power Line) turns power lines into giant transmitting antennas. What could possibly go wrong? http://www.arrl.org/broadband-over-powerline-bpl [arrl.org] http://www.arrl.org/news/city-of-manassas-to-end-bpl-service [arrl.org] http://www.arrl.org/news/arrl-shows-ibec-bpl-systems-are-interfering-violating-fcc-rules [arrl.org] Yes, these are are Ham Radio references because we are the ones using the spectrum that BPL interferes (sometimes on a shared basis with other services).
  • by mehrotra.akash (1539473) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @01:01PM (#36156556)

    Isnt there a way to digitise HAM radio, encapsulate it and transmit it over IP?

    HAM over IP would be the solution to most of the interference problems

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes there is, such as D-STAR or EchoLink, but some hams want to do it the traditional way: by radio waves.

    • by Xacid (560407)

      In the true spirit of Ham we should call it:

      Ham Accessing Lined Fiber for Asynchronous Signal Switching - Error Detection.

      It's almost recursive too. ;)

    • by Ironchew (1069966)

      Packet radio [wikipedia.org] does this, though not usually with IP. If you're willing to transmit it slowly enough (typically 1200 bits/s with the AX.25 data layer) and the FCC allows it (applicable to the United States), sure, but if you can't hear CW because of noise, you won't be able to digitize anything.

    • by awehttam (779031)
      Hamsphere [hamsphere.com]
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Seriously, the whole point of HAM is it is independent of any infrastructure. HAM over IP? Seriously, just crank up Skype then.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Are you kidding or really don't get it. Amateur radio is about the radio part of it. And yes there are repeaters that are linked by IP but the point is to use the radio. Also what good does that do if you are trying to communicate from a boat in the middle of the Atlantic or some place with no Cell service or Internet?

      • The former

        • I mean it was intended to be a joke, but people took it seriously somehow :)

          • by LWATCDR (28044)

            That is the problem on Slashdot. Way too many people on here that would say that these days. I was hoping that it was a joke. Forgive my error and thank you for restoring my faith in Slashdot for a moment. Hey at least I asked.

    • by AB3A (192265)

      It's called IRLP [irlp.net]. However, the primary purpose of ham radio is radio communications over bands ranging from medium waves through SHF.

      On a broader note: it isn't just ham radio that will be affected, but also low band VHF users. And remember, if the signal leaks, it can also be interfered with.

      The whole notion of stuffing broadband traffic over power lines has been tried and proven unworkable in many attempts on both sides of the Atlantic. Power lines were never designed to be balanced transmission lines su

    • Yeah and kill the whole point of HAM in the process.
    • by Skapare (16644)

      Isnt there a way to encapsulate IP, modulate it, and transit it over HAM radio?

      IP over HAM radio would be the solution to most of the ISP problems

  • Violation of treaty (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Caerdwyn (829058) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @01:04PM (#36156598) Journal

    There are international treaties concerning radio interference. Among the provisions of these treaties are sections defining amateur radio frequencies which are not to be assigned to other usage or interfered with. If power line communications interferes with amateur radio and emergency radio services [nato.int], the country in question is in noncompliance with the treaties involved. The governing body of these treaties is the International Telecommunications Union [itu.int]; the United States and the United Kingdom are both signatories. (actually, almost every country on Earth is, with the non-signatories being North Korea and their ilk)

    In the United States at least, treaties come immediately after the Constitution in being the highest law of the land (the Supremacy Clause). Depending upon where you are, your kilometerage may vary.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      That's not true, we have to adhere to treaties before we adhere to the constitution, that's been pretty well accepted in terms of SCOTUS rulings. Which is unfortunate because it means that things like the WTO can't be undone without signing a new treaty that declares the previous one to be null. Which in practice doesn't happen, which is why the process for signing a treaty is of such importance.

      • by Ironchew (1069966)

        we have to adhere to treaties before we adhere to the constitution, that's been pretty well accepted in terms of SCOTUS rulings.

        That's really scary if it's true, mainly because the U.S. can sign a treaty with only the President and a simple majority of the Senate.

        • by brainboyz (114458)

          Except it's not. Treaties don't override the Constitution and any interference between the two would have to meet the same requirements as an amendment addition to be valid in the US. If they're found to be non-constitutional, they're invalidated.

          • by hedwards (940851)

            Possibly, but can you name a single instance where SCOTUS didn't back the treaty? Which is sort of the point, as long as SCOTUS can't find a treaty which isn't constitutional it's very much an open question. But, for the time being one has to assume that we can't back out of treaties without everybody else agreeing to it.

      • by sjames (1099)

        SCOTUS is out of it's mind. The Constitution is the one and only delegation of governing authority from the people to the federal government. Without it, they're just an occupying force. Therefor, they cannot have any power to negotiate anything that voids the Constitution as they would void themselves in the process.

        That's not to say it isn't being done anyway since the Constitution is being systematically voided anyway, but it doesn't make it right or even acceptable.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Strictly speaking, what the constitution says on the matter may or may not agree with SCOTUS. I'm not aware of them ever finding a treaty to be unconstitutional even some which are of questionable constitutionality.

        • by rk (6314)

          "Anarchy is the sure consequence of tyranny; or no power that is not limited by laws can ever be protected by them." - Milton

  • Strange Story (Score:4, Interesting)

    by locallyunscene (1000523) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @01:16PM (#36156810)
    So GCHQ’s spectrum manager wrote this letter on official letterhead in March and somehow released or leaked it. The GCHQ claims it was not an official document, and insinuates as a ham operator the spectrum manager was trying to further his own hobby's agenda. The UK ham operators lobbyist group "Ban Power Line Technology" [ban-plt.co.uk] has a copy of this "unofficial" letter and is using it to prove that this technology is damaging the public good, but nothing is "official". How convenient for the GCHQ.

    Ironically, i could easily see this having the opposite effect that the GCHQ is hoping for. I think more people care about having privacy in their home than inconveniencing ham operators.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      Just build some chicken wire into your walls below the plaster and put on your tinfoil hat when you go outside. Privacy and stylish headware.

  • by johnthorensen (539527) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @01:58PM (#36157336)
    The ARRL (read: ham radio lobbyist group - I hate lobbyists but I do count them as one of the less evil ones) has been fighting this battle for a decade or so. This is a really really old issue. However, there's no doubt that powerline networking interferes with amateur radio. However, most people consider it Someone Else's Problem (apologies to Douglas Adams). Hams have traditionally been very successful with defending their spectrum, and it's sort of surprising to me that the battle continues. Probably because they're up against the Energy industry, whose lobbyists are uberl33t.
    • by Gordonjcp (186804)

      Of course the flip side of it is that we can generate enough noise of our own to render BPL unusable. Wifi, too - want to see how well your 50mW wifi router manages against my 400W 2.4GHz amp?

      A more serious problem is that someone thought it would be a great idea to put all the car remote central locking fobs on 433.920MHz - right in the middle of the digital modes segment and right beside one of the common internet voice gateway channels. Fire up your transmitter around there, and watch everyone fail to

      • by EasyTarget (43516)

        Of course the flip side of it is that we can generate enough noise of our own to render BPL unusable. Wifi, too - want to see how well your 50mW wifi router manages against my 400W 2.4GHz amp?

        Yep.. I think most of us nerds round here do.. but we also know how easily cheap hand held equipment can locate the position of such a powerful transmitter with surprising speed and accuracy (having a 50ft radio mast in the back garden helps with this.)

        After which it's just a question of contacting the relevant authorities with the data, and asking them to check the findings. They'll probably even give you a receipt as they enter your premises to seize the equipment, accompanied by the police and using forc

        • by Gordonjcp (186804)

          After which it's just a question of contacting the relevant authorities with the data, and asking them to check the findings.

          That's the thing, though. I can do that *legally*. If my licensed radio equipment obliterates your *unlicensed* radio equipment, then tough shit - you get to move, or buy better gear.

  • Let's be quite clear: Ofcom knew about the interference. Years ago they commissioned a report on particular BT PLT devices with a reputable testing house and the report confirmed that the devices were non-compliant - but the report was kept under wraps. Every complaint made by shortwave users (BBC, SWLs, hams, etc.) was responded to with the indication that Ofcom had no evidence that the devices were non-compliant. So one guy made a FOIA request that relevant reports were released. Ofcom refused to release them, citing exemptions to the FOIA.

    But the Information Commissioner demanded a release. And the report was finally released, confirming that Ofcom were lying, and demonstrating that Ofcom are not, in fact, an impartial regulator at all, but in bed with industry.

    The RSGB's latest press release on the matter. [rsgb.org]

    To summarise: Ofcom are a bunch of corrupt bastards.

  • by DinDaddy (1168147) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @04:00PM (#36158832)

    "reveals that the writer of the letter comes from a ham."

    I would pay big bucks to watch a ham bear a child. Even more for it to spawn a grown adult.

    Somewhat less for slashdot to have good editors.

    • by Xtifr (1323)

      Both radio hams and Hollywood hams bear children on a regular basis.

      Granted, it was almost certainly the letter, not the writer, that came from a ham, but if you were to believe that the word "ham" could only refer to pork, the idea of a ham writing a letter would be just as confusing to you as the idea of a ham having a child.

  • No surprise that the complaint comes from a ham. I have known a number of people who engineered radio systems for the military and intelligence community and every last one of them was also a ham.

    If you're building fancy one-off radios for the spooks, building them for yourself for playing is trivial. And if you're INTERESTED enough in the tech to be good at engineering it you're probably interested enough to use it for a hobby.

    • I was thinking the same thing. It's similar to how people who program for a living tend to have nicer computers at home too...

  • Wasting my breath I know, but...

    > ... the British regulator says that objections to powerline all come from radio amateurs

    The truth is that BPL interferes with ALL radio systems, however the Radio Amateurs are the only qualified observers who are bothering to express their concerns at this time. The Commercial and Official bodies will finally start to panic when the interference becomes disastrous.

    Blaming in Hams merely proves that you are biased or lying.

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