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Can the NSA Really Track You Through Power Lines? 109 109

mask.of.sanity writes Forensics and industry experts have cast doubt on an alleged National Security Agency capability to locate whistle blowers appearing in televised interviews based on how the captured background hum of electrical devices affects energy grids. Divining information from electrified wires is a known technique: Network Frequency Analysis (ENF) is used to prove video and audio streams have not been tampered with, but experts weren't sure if the technology could be used to locate individuals.
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Can the NSA Really Track You Through Power Lines?

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  • by Amouth (879122) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @07:54PM (#47380673)

    While the article, you, and i'm sure more to come keep mentioning the need to "place senors" the reality is any Utility company worth it's salt already has this data logged as part of normal operations through SCADA/DCS systems.

    This systems monitor (and log) so many different variables that it forces the companies to store everything in databases for reference & analysis. When it comes to power generation nearly all power generation is done by a "utility" company all of which are heavy government regulated. In a lot of areas it is actually the government which determines bill rates and adjustments to generation capacities (or at least responsible for the play book the operators work by).

    It would be far easier and less far fetched to believe that the NSA would have access to theses logs/DBs for what ever use they wanted. Especially with most major power generation sites being covered under FERC regulations and several of the regulation requirements for Reliability requires operators to track and monitor this exact data that the NSA would need.

    And trust me when i say that these sites log everything and keep it incase of an Audit. The consequences for failing to be able to provide the data in case of an Audit or Incident Investigation is worse (for the company) than just about any incident would be. They log it, they keep it, even if they will will never look at it again, because the government might come asking for it (and they will give it when asked with no questions as they are required to by regulations).

    Honestly going this route i'd say compared to the wiretapping network the NSA has put together, this would be trivial for them to do (not cheap or quick, just not all that difficult).

  • Re:Well, sort of. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @08:05PM (#47380719) Journal

    You can SORT OF do the same thing for power, by embedding a signal in a given substation.

    So, I came here to ask, "Why is this on Slashdot? Don't we all realize that isn't possible?"
    Then I came here and saw this, and that it was moderated up. Oh well.

  • by TWX (665546) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @08:54PM (#47380905)

    While I also doubt that this is possible today, I am sure the NSA is looking at placing the respective sensors. Then we will have to do "analog routing" and mix in mains hum form several places to obscure where and when things have been recorded. Maybe we should start to offer recordings of local grid noise. Would not be that difficult to do.

    It's not even that complicated.

    Many power lines have optical fiber strung in the middle of them, it's called optical power ground wire (OPGW) [thefoa.org] (scroll down a bit). That fiber is used as Internet backbone, as telecom voice, and as diagnostic for when there are power grid problems. If a line goes down then they can use an OTDR to determine the distance to the break instead of having to hunt for it.

    All that they'd have to do would be to put devices at termination points and use dark strands. Sure, the equipment to transceive on single-mode fiber at those distances would be pricey, but it's completely within the technology that we have right now.

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