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FBI Nabs Chicago Transit Authority Radio Hacker

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the yeah-please-don't-touch-that-button-ok dept.

Transportation 177

Wh15per writes "The Chicago FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested an individual for misusing Chicago Transit Authority radio systems. Marcel Carter, 20, is charged with violating a US code that forbids interference with transportation operators. A federal complaint alleges he began using a radio to transmit on CTA frequencies in June 2008, often interjecting comments during communications between the agency's control center and train operators. The CTA claims Carter's radio communications were never followed, and passengers were never in danger."

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Refreshing Change (5, Insightful)

dtmos (447842) | more than 5 years ago | (#28942915)

See, there is some good news occasionally.

Oh, and can we reserve use of the term "hacker" for someone with at least a modicum of technical skills? This guy isn't even a cracker. All he did was talk on a stolen radio.

Re:Refreshing Change (1)

qortra (591818) | more than 5 years ago | (#28942989)

All he did was talk on a stolen radio.

And purchase it, allegedly.

Re:Refreshing Change (4, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943015)

All he did was talk on a stolen radio.

No kidding. A radio hacker would have made his own radio transceiver. This guy's just a common street thug.

Re:Refreshing Change (2, Informative)

Romancer (19668) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943333)

And it doesn't even matter if his "...radio communications were never followed..."

He could have been talking over some important directions, or distracting from critical legitimate communications, or if someone thought that it was him and ignored a real direction it is the same thing. He's an idiot on their frequency, thereby endangering the passengers.

Re:Refreshing Change (-1, Flamebait)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943449)

He's an idiot on their frequency, thereby endangering the passengers.

Trying to get elected with that sensationalism are you?

you need to go further and call his actions "terrorist" and how he endangered the "entire city".

what he did was stupid, but you are doing the same thing by acting like a Fox news reporter.

Re:Refreshing Change (2, Informative)

Thansal (999464) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943643)

Sorry, but the summation of "He's an idiot on their frequency, thereby endangering the passengers." is 100% accurate. He attempted to give directions to train operators that could have ended with crashes. He is a stupid little punk that deserves jail time.

Re:Refreshing Change (4, Informative)

beef curtains (792692) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943869)

He's an idiot on their frequency, thereby endangering the passengers.

Trying to get elected with that sensationalism are you?

you need to go further and call his actions "terrorist" and how he endangered the "entire city".

what he did was stupid, but you are doing the same thing by acting like a Fox news reporter.

Are you on drugs? The GP could not have summarized this whole thing in a more factual, less sensational way. So posing as a CTA supervisor & ordering train conductors to ignore stop signals when approaching busy subway stations doesn't count as "endangering the passengers" in your mind?

Look, I hate the black & white, "with us or with the terrorists" propaganda as much as anyway, but how about a little perspective on things? The facts here are simple: this guy is definitely an idiot, and some of his idiocy had the potential of injuring and/or killing a lot of folks.

Holmes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28944751)

To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, JR, "A lot of the damage done in the world is done by stupid people."
That's why the law holds everyone to the same "reasonable person" standard, and doesn't care that "the guy was just an ignorant fool who did something stupid."

Re:Refreshing Change (2, Informative)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943601)

The article mentions two incidents where he tried to make trains go when they shouldn't move. The first incident, telling a train to go past a stop signal, risks a crash. Give an idiot a radio and he'll eat for 1-5 years in prison.

Re:Refreshing Change (2, Informative)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943359)

Or, at the very least, modified a radio to operate on the CTA frequencies, but it sounds like he bought a stolen CTA radio.

Not a hacker or cracker by any sense of either word.

Re:Refreshing Change (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943369)

Of course, I thought of this AFTER posting, the closest terminology in computer circles to describe this guy would be "script kiddie".

Re:Refreshing Change (5, Insightful)

The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943373)

From TFA

Marcel Carter, of the 200 block of West 37th Place, was arrested Friday after he and his brother asked a CTA employee at a train station if there was a reward for a stolen radio. The employee put Carter on the phone with a dispatcher who recognized Carter's voice and kept him talking until police could arrive.

He sounds like a common moron.

Common Moron (4, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944303)

Who is about to get pwnt by the full weight of the post 9/11 hysteria.
Throw in a healthy dollop of "omg there have been numerous subway accidents recently" and he's screwed.

He was formally charged Monday with knowingly interfering with the operation of a mass transportation vehicle, a felony under the USA PATRIOT Act.

The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force has been investigating the case for more than a year...
...
If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in jail and a 200,000 fine.

One would have thought that this would be a case for the FCC and the Chicago Transit Police.

Re:Refreshing Change (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943409)

As I can see - why does it even reach into the list of Slashdot articles?

It must be a very slow day when a dumbass local to Chicago makes the headlines on Slashdot and get the whole thing propagated worldwide.

Re:Refreshing Change (1)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943733)

the whole thing propagated worldwide.

Radios? Propagated? Get it? *snicker*

Re:Refreshing Change (4, Interesting)

Jim Hall (2985) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944039)

Oh, and can we reserve use of the term "hacker" for someone with at least a modicum of technical skills? This guy isn't even a cracker. All he did was talk on a stolen radio.

Mr Barn, I'd like to introduce you to Mr Horse. Oh, sorry - he seems to have run away already.

Gone are the days when "hacker" meant free-spirited computer programmer of the 1960's. [wikipedia.org] Also long gone are the days when it meant home computer hobbyist. [wikipedia.org] These days, assume "hacker" means simply breaks into stuff, [wikipedia.org] or more generally "does something wrong using technology."

Use an exploit to "own" a server? Hacker. Break into your school's computer system and change a grade? Hacker. Impersonate the transit authority hub station using a radio? Hacker.

Re:Refreshing Change (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944145)

When it started to get disgusting is when people started using it to describe just about any sort of cheat in an online game, other than exploiting a bug -- for instance, "wallhacking".

Re:Refreshing Change (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944165)

c/hacker/douche bag

There, fixed that for ya.

Re:Refreshing Change (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28944323)

Doesn't matter. Labeling him "a hacker", enables the prosecution to demand much higher sentences than calling him "some guy who stole a radio". They'd call him "a super evil hyperterrorist that wants to destroy us all" if the average judge would believe it.

Re:Refreshing Change (1)

Mister Whirly (964219) | more than 5 years ago | (#28945251)

Sorry, but applying a label to someone does not affect their sentence. A "hacker" is going to get the same sentence as "some guy who stole a radio and used it illegally". If you could point out which statue automatically gives stiffer sentences to "hackers" I would love for you to point it out to the rest of us.

Well done. (1)

leighton (102540) | more than 5 years ago | (#28942917)

This isn't exactly Pump Up the Volume, frankly. Interfering with transit operations is a pretty dumb and dangerous thing to do (though I might be a bit paranoid given that I'm a Boston resident). Glad they got the guy.

Oh, and this was funny: (3, Insightful)

leighton (102540) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943007)

Merriwhether said her son knew why he was being arrested, but didn't know that what he was doing was against the law.

Translation: "Merriwhether said that her son was a *@#$%&# idiot."

During an initial court appearance Monday, Judge Morton Denlow set Carter's bond at $4,500 and put him under the supervision of his mother. He was instructed to not use any broadcasting devices.

Interesting. So he can't use wifi? I wonder what the judge's order actually said.

Re:Oh, and this was funny: (1)

autocracy (192714) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943337)

"Potentially causing trains to crash isn't illegal? What about making every traffic light in the city green?" Oh, and before anybody calls me on that joke, traffic lights have hardware interlocks which make it impossible to do so. Despite this, some major cities have direct control of signals where you could do a tic-tac-toe pattern and make it impossible to drive more than a block in a straight line. That would be non-hazardous and rather amusing.

PS, knowing why you're being arrested is usually pretty close to knowing that you did something illegal. Twit. For this one, a felony charge warranted.

Re:Oh, and this was funny: (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943497)

"Potentially causing trains to crash isn't illegal? ?

Yes, but that was never at risk of happening.

"knowing why you're being arrested is usually pretty close to knowing that you did something illegal."

No it's not.
I was nearly arrested for launching a model rocket. The officer showed up, I knew why he was there but had no idea there was a city ordinance against model rocket launches.

In the end, I was not arrest. It was a small rocket that might of gone up 500 feet.

And yes, he needs to be charged, but no, he should speand anytime in jail, just put him on probation.

I don't want to pay for this persons meals.

Re:Oh, and this was funny: (2, Informative)

autocracy (192714) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943639)

It's a great PR line, but I don't think it's safe to say that they were never at risk. Just because motions didn't happen does NOT mean that motions couldn't have happened.

I did make a tenuous statement about the "being arrested is usually close to knowing..." bit, so I'll concede that right away. What he did was still dangerous, though, and did present a risk to trains. A greater risk if he knew what he was saying.

Re:Oh, and this was funny: (1)

Verdatum (1257828) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943679)

No model rockets? That's a travesty! No, I'm not being sarcastic, that's really lame.

Re:Oh, and this was funny: (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944609)

In dry areas, they can be pretty draconian over what you can do when anything that might result in explosions or fire are involved. One misplaced spark and you've got five square miles and growing of burning kindling that hasn't had control burns in over a decade.

I'd wonder what the laws are on fireworks there, because I'd wager those are outlawed too.

Re:Oh, and this was funny: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28944319)

some major cities have direct control of signals where you could do a tic-tac-toe pattern and make it impossible to drive more than a block in a straight line. That would be non-hazardous and rather amusing.

Sounds like the traffic signals in downtown Houston...except the good folks who control the traffic signals seem to think this is a GOOD way to have the signals set up. Gets old fast, way over being amused by it at this point.

Re:Oh, and this was funny: (1)

denttford (579202) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944859)

So do I, as there is a difference between broadcasting ("Transmissions intended for reception by the general public, either direct or relayed.") and transmitting (vague, could be simply the act of radiating, or often communications that are one to one, or a in small group, usually in two way communications). Yes, clearly influenced from amateur use, but the quote is an FCC definition. In common speech, there is little distinction, but in technical matters and regulation, even outside amateur practice, broadcast has a specific term which I doubt the judge meant, or possibly ordered.

They're going to throw the book at him (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943037)

They're going to throw the book at him.... and he deserves it. Dumbass.

Pranks now felonies (5, Funny)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943041)

FTFA: "interfering with the operation of a mass transportation vehicle, a felony under the USA PATRIOT Act."

Yelling at a bus driver? Felony
Leaning in front of an oncoming train? Felony
Talking on the transit radio band? Felony
Putting pennies on train tracks? Felony

Somehow, my youth was filled with felonious behavior. Perhaps the Homeland needs securing from scamps like me.

Re:Pranks now felonies (1)

N1tr0u5 (819066) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943257)

DHS will be along any time now for your admitted terrorist behavior.

Re:Pranks now felonies (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943361)

In my youth, segregation was legal, and blacks and women could not vote. In my youth, we did not have the type of suicide terrorism we have now.
Times change and this is new area where there are terrorist and potential evildoers who aim for these soft targets, so get over it.

Now that I've utterly smashed and destroyed your idiotic drivel, I expect moderators to mod you to oblivion for being such a twit.

Re:Pranks now felonies (1)

drukawski (1083675) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944115)

In my youth... women could not vote.

Assuming you are a natural born US citizen that would mean you were born before 1920. Seems to me someone that was born right around the end of the first world war would have realized by now some things don't change. Theres ALWAYS going to be "evildoers" out there that wants to kill us. There always has been. That doesn't mean we need to treat our kids like criminals every time they make a mistake.

Re:Pranks now felonies (3, Insightful)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943421)

I suspect your youth was filled with obnoxious behaviour, but that it didn't rise to the level of felony. I mean, you think that putting pennies on a train track actually interferes with the operation of the train. I doubt the train even notices. And "yelling at a bus driver"? Sorry. That probably doesn't count as interfering with the operation of a mass transit system, either.

Now, issuing false instructions that endanger the lives of tens or hundreds of people, THAT's felony territory, and anyone who does that should be locked up.

Think before you speak (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944061)

And "yelling at a bus driver"? Sorry. That probably doesn't count as interfering with the operation of a mass transit system, either.

Of course it does.

It distracts the driver.

He can't respond quickly enough to the kid taking his bike out into street - the car that ran the stop sign.

Someone dies.

At the very least, you've done your bit to make the mass transit experience singularly unpleasant for everyone.

That doesn't help boost ridership and revenues, it sure as heck doesn't make it any easier to recruit and retain drivers.

Re:Think before you speak (3, Insightful)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 5 years ago | (#28945215)

And "yelling at a bus driver"? Sorry. That probably doesn't count as interfering with the operation of a mass transit system, either.

Of course it does.

It distracts the driver.

From what? The comment was simply "yelling at the bus driver", under the SUBJECT "Pranks...". If you are standing at the entrance of the bus yelling at him while he's waiting for you to pay so he can close the doors and move on, you aren't distracting him from anything -- his job at that moment is to watch you pay your fare, so he's already dealing WITH YOU. So no, simply "yelling at the bus driver" as a "prank" isn't a felony because it isn't interfering with the mass transport system.

Now, if you run up behind him while he's DRIVING DOWN THE STREET and start yelling at him out of the blue, yes, I suppose that's something that should be punished and is dangerous, which is why I wouldn't call it a PRANK.

Someone dies.

Yes, if you cause the death of someone, except under specific circumstances, it is a crime and you should go to jail. That's not "a prank". Simply yelling at a driver does not mean "someone dies".

At the very least, you've done your bit to make the mass transit experience singularly unpleasant for everyone.

And now you're trying to define "making something unpleasant" as a felonious interference with a mass transport system that endangers lives and property. Shit, most of the people riding on the bus make the experience unpleasant for the others. They smell, they spit, they yak yak yak, they play radios, they step on your toes as they walk by. They cough, they sneeze, they wheeze and gasp, they spill their drinks on you. If you want to claim that "make the experience unpleasant" is a felony, then there are a lot of people who need to be arrested.

That doesn't help boost ridership and revenues, it sure as heck doesn't make it any easier to recruit and retain drivers.

You really need to get a grip on the difference between "interference with a mass transport system" and "being obnoxious". Or don't, and continue to whine about how the Patriot Act ruins your life because it makes everything you do illegal, and look stupid when you tell people exactly what you're doing that you think is illegal. No, "yelling at a bus driver" isn't. "Putting pennies on a train track" isn't. "Interfering with mass transport communications and safety systems" is.

Re:Pranks now felonies (4, Insightful)

yogibaer (757010) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943515)

I have to disagree: There is a difference between talking on the transit radio band and (according to TFA) impersonating the control center, telling a driver to disregard a stop signal. Which proud owner of a model railway has not enjoyed the mayhem now and again while playing "train crash" like Gomez Adams but it is not funny, when playing with a real subway. The "prankster" was 20 years old btw. (not 12) so felony, indeed and good to know that subway drivers are well trained and capable of independent thought.

ob. Simpsons quote (5, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943563)

-Talking out of turn...that's a paddling. Looking out the window...that's a paddling. Staring at my sandals...that's a paddling. Paddling the school canoe...ooh, you better believe that's a paddling

Jasper.

Re:Pranks now felonies (1)

Verdatum (1257828) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943713)

Damn kids refusing to get off old man's lawn? Felony.

Re:Pranks now felonies (2, Insightful)

frozentier (1542099) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943821)

FTFA: "interfering with the operation of a mass transportation vehicle, a felony under the USA PATRIOT Act."

Yelling at a bus driver? Felony Leaning in front of an oncoming train? Felony Talking on the transit radio band? Felony Putting pennies on train tracks? Felony

Somehow, my youth was filled with felonious behavior. Perhaps the Homeland needs securing from scamps like me.

Peeing on the "third rail"? Felony

Re:Pranks now felonies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943943)

Peeing on the "third rail"? Felony

I'm not sure. Maybe a bit more a failony.

Re:Pranks now felonies (1)

Hel Toupee (738061) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944525)

If I accidentally rear-end a city bus in traffic, is that a felony? What if I cut one off in traffic? That would be interfering with the operation, correct? What if I hold the door to a subway car open so that someone's leg doesn't get caught and mangled? Felony?

Taking bets (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943055)

So, who will get the worst punishment, this guy or the guy who modded consoles? Taking bets now!

Re:Taking bets (3, Insightful)

thunderclap (972782) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943525)

So, who will get the worst punishment, this guy or the guy who modded consoles? Taking bets now!

The guy who modded consoles, sadly. One year for this guy and a ban from using radio bands for broadcast.

Re:Taking bets (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28944787)

Can anyone post a link to this?

Why is public transport still living in stone age? (5, Insightful)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943059)

In a previous life, I was an air traffic controller. For about a month, we had a moron that was transmitting on ATC frequencies, trying to give or override control instructions. Since he didn't have a good grasp of ATC phraseology, he was easy to ignore. But he did succeed in causing quite a bit of frequency interference: ATC still operates on AM, so there is no "capture" effect as with FM, where the strongest station overrides weaker stations. Simultaneous transmissions are garbled, so "Say again" becomes a very automatic response in those situations (hell, I still use that phrase today...old habits die hard).

My point here is that I do not see a reason why public transportation systems still rely on decades-old, non-encrypted technology. With ATC, it's a trivial matter of ordering a handheld on-line that is capable of transmitting on all ATC freqs. Agencies that continue to rely on antiquated systems deserve part of the blame.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943173)

Wow did they ever get the guys who was giving false instructions? That seems like a big deal.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (5, Interesting)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943211)

A simple answer is that it isn't much of a problem (how many deadly incidents have there been in the last decade?) and there are thousands of radios.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Cowar (1608865) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943229)

At least with airplanes, they rely on decades-old, non-encrypted technology because it works, because to upgrade would require every grass field landing strip to upgrade decades-old radios that still work just as well as they did a half century ago, every antique piper cub to get new radio systems, and require world-wide adherence to the new standard all because some doof can override the signal if they want.

If that's not a knee-jerk, I don't know what is.

As for the busses, if they have enough of a problem, they can upgrade on a city by city basis, but until it becomes enough of a nuisance, they won't.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

FrostDust (1009075) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943351)

Is there a reason planes couldn't be equipped with both systems during some type of "transition" phase? Is it just money, would it be too heavy for the planes?

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (2, Insightful)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943471)

A new secure, encrypted system (or at least one that implemented digital signatures for each transmitter) would probably wind up being smaller and lighter than many of the older radios installed on many planes.

The problem is:
Key/certificate infrastructure?
Transition period? Planes will need new antennas and potentially both systems installed simultaneously, unless the new system operates in the old frequency bands (may be too crowded for this)

In general, it's a massive organizational nightmare, and if the new system is in a different frequency band, there's the challenge of integrating it onto a massive pile of legacy aircraft platforms. Adding a new antenna to an aircraft is NOT necessarily an easy task. (Physically it is, but planning its location isn't always so easy.)

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943761)

So the new system would transmit using the same AM technology, but after the controller/pilot releases the mic key, it would transmit an digital signature. If the signature wasn't correct, the receiver would light an alert light.

Anyway, I agree that the amount of damage that's been caused by pranksters doesn't justify the cost of a new system. Just make sure the FAA & FCC are on the ball when there is a prankster, and we'll be just as safe.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (5, Insightful)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943727)

No, many planes are equipped with multiple radios (for backup or simply to be able to switch frequencies quickly) anyway.

The real issues are threefold:

1. Money: Encrypted radios cost, and there are a LOT of the old AM-band radios out there that would need to be replaced. Most planes have one, and most pilots carry at least one handheld for emergency backup and to get ATIS and just to monitor the frequency while they are preflighting to get an idea of what traffic is like, etc.
2. Range: With an AM, unencrypted radio, you can lose a surprising amount of signal and still make out what the person on the other end is saying. Once you encrypt the signal, your signal has to be pretty close to perfect or the decryption doesn't work. So you either just cost radios serious amounts of range, or you have to find a new frequency band where more information can be packed into the same frequency and you have more discrete frequencies to ensure a clear transmission free of interference.
3. Security: In order to use them, pilots will need to purchase them. So every pilot shop is going to need to offer these radios for easy sale. If pilots can buy them, so can other people, unless you want to get into a registration system as complex and useless as a gun ownership database. Then, of course, you can't really issue unique encryption keys to each radio because registering them is going to require a hellishly complex system. So you'll end up with something that is easily replicated and easily acquired, and therefore offers no real security.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (3, Insightful)

Unordained (262962) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944183)

Point 3 is misleading. Yes, pilots could purchase them, and you might not want to go to the trouble of uniquely identifying every pilot, but that's not the same as pilots being able to transmit as a controller! It'd be possible to use public keys to identify known-good control towers, and only distribute keys to those towers after proper investigation, rescind keys if they get out into the wild, etc. Pilots need to know that the control tower really is a control tower -- it's not quite as important the other way around. As long as a light indicates "you're hearing the voice of a real, authorized controller", you can ignore messages when that light isn't on. For that matter, you could auto-exclude them. Like auto-muting advertising.

We've managed to encrypt and authenticate large chunks of the internet without assigning unique IDs to every internet user. We can do this too. Not that this is the only hurdle. Your other points stand. It's still a huge challenge.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

Anonymous Cowar (1608865) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944691)

Heh, i can imagine the news getting into an uproar after someone manages to corrupt the la guardia key and all pilots everywhere start ignoring the tower...

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944697)

Hmm, I hadn't thought about one-way identification. That does raise an interesting possibility. I still think proper read-back would offer essentially the same assurance (since once a bonehead starts injecting invalid commands into a frequency, the real controller is going to start issuing corrections really quick, and pilots are trained in visual signals if the radio comms become unclear). But that does make positive identification of the tower a real possibility. IMHO not nearly worth the expense, but it's an excellent point.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (2, Interesting)

Pig Hogger (10379) | more than 5 years ago | (#28945223)

1. Money: Encrypted radios cost,
3. Security: In order to use them, pilots will need to purchase them. So every pilot shop is going to need to offer these radios for easy sale. If pilots can buy them, so can other people, unless you want to get into a registration system as complex and useless as a gun ownership database. Then, of course, you can't really issue unique encryption keys to each radio because registering them is going to require a hellishly complex system. So you'll end up with something that is easily replicated and easily acquired, and therefore offers no real security.

Well, no.

Cell phones are encrypted radios, too, yet they are cheap and plentiful.

Cell phones have to be registered and assigned to an owner (it has to be, otherwise the cellphone company could not bill users), and in case of theft, it can be remotely disabled.

Because there hasn't been a serious incident (1)

Chmcginn (201645) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943291)

Projects that cost a lot of money generally don't happen until there's an actual example of something going wrong due to lack of action. If one of the recent transportation mishaps could be definitely blamed on someone interfering with transmissions, Congress would push the money out in weeks.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (3, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943395)

For about a month, we had a moron that was transmitting on ATC frequencies

My point here is that I do not see a reason why public transportation systems still rely on decades-old, non-encrypted technology.

How would adding encryption to your transmissions fix the RF problem of a doofus transmitting on top of the valid transmissions? The cure for a DOS attack is not making the protocol more complicated thus even easier to overload.

Also, inevitably, what happens when the JFK airport IT department loses or screws up the key, and all communication is lost? Seems that AM is much more failsafe.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

mea37 (1201159) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943857)

You're confusing the attack with the symptom. The symptom is a DoS because the attacker is an idiot, but

1) A more savvy attacker could actually issue legitimate-sounding instructions that might get followed

2) The attacker probably wouldn't find it nearly as entertaining if he/she knew that nothing said was actually being heard by anyone. "Oh, look at me, I'm holding down a PTT key and maybe making it hard for someone else's transmissiont to get through!" As an amateur radio operator, or heard deliberate interferance on many occasions, and that's pretty much never what it sounds like.

So encryption may not solve every possible problem, but it would help with a lot of practical ones. That said, you certainly could focus on a protocol more resistant to jamming. A good start would be to go to digital, so you can do more with less bandwidth and have automatic error recovery - which points out that sometimes more complex is more resistant to DoS, because sometimes more complex systems are more efficient.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944353)

Well, just to play devil's advocate, I'd rather lose all aviation comms entirely than start relying on invalid information. I don't NEED a radio to fly. It just allows for far more efficient handling of traffic. If you managed somehow to knock out every radio in the country, there would be very few crashes (possibly even none) - pilots would receive visual instructions to either vacate the area for a while (or head to a reliever airport for landing) or continue in pattern, and of course no one would get takeoff clearance so the fact that planes are landing less frequently just means you have a couple of pretty hairy hours for pilots and controllers until enough planes land and get off the active runways. If it happened in IFR (instrument) it would get a little uglier, but there are pretty decent procedures to handle it fairly well.

On the other hand, adding invalid information to a channel could add real risk. So if I call an airport frequency at night for tarmac conditions and get a response that everything is fine (when in reality the tarmac is being plowed up by the Mayor of Chicago, but the runway lights are still on) I'm at more risk than if no one answered at all. I have a spot where I'm less likely to look for a hazard where one may actually exist.

I agree with you (for many other reasons I've stated in other posts) that an encrypted radio system is pretty useless for aviation from a security perspective. It's theoretically possible but basically practically impossible to truly secure aviation communications. And if it doesn't add security, it obviously doesn't justify increasing complexity.

But there are conditions under which no communication at all is better than possibly compromised communications. Trains may be a good example of this - a train operator can be told that if the radios go down they need to slow the trains way down so they can see hazards. The "DOS attack" introduces major inconvenience and delays, but no significant risk to passengers. The comms are providing efficiency, not safety. Whereas injecting real-sounding but false information ("Train 321, that blockage ahead of you has been cleared, you are free to resume speed") could present a real hazard - and a low-powered radio near the train you are targeting could easily be heard by the train conductor but NOT by a central controller.

So I could see where there may be some conditions where encrypted radios are useful. Aviation isn't one of them, but it's like protecting a network against a DOS attack - you can't lower security to prevent the DOS attack, and sometimes you accept an increased risk of DOS attacks as a cost of securing communications when they DO happen. In fact, a very rational response to a perceived "hack attack" on your network is to disconnect your network from the Internet for a while. A self-imposed DOS attack to prevent something more serious.

But, is it worth the money? What are the chances of a successful injection of invalid instructions? Are there cheaper methods available, such as "read back" (when you get instructions from the Tower, you read them back to the Tower along with your aircraft ID in your acknowledgment - this is to ensure that the correct pilot got the information correctly), that would be just as useful at basically no cost?

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (5, Insightful)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943401)

Well, partly because if you upgrade all aviation comms to encrypted radios, then every pilot would need to go out and upgrade their equipment to an encrypted unit. Which then means that encrypted radios need to become readily available for every pilot and/or A&P mechanic to purchase, which means every Tom, Dick, and Harry can walk into Ye Olde Pilot Shoppe and buy one, which means that said Tom, Dick, or Harry can then carry on with their mischief. You'd in essence be forcing everyone in the Aviation field who uses comms for anything to upgrade their gear and not improving anything as a result.

Now, with a closed-loop internal system like bus and train, I see your point. You have a fixed number of authorized users, and life is good. Mischief would be limited to a hacker who has the time and resources to monitor the frequencies long enough to break the encryption (which wouldn't be terribly long, since all the radios would have to use the same encryption keys, but at least the infantile idiots who buy a GPRS radio at WalMart and have trouble inserting the batteries properly would be excluded - so when someone DOES break in they'll celebrate their achievement by something more sophisticated than yelling "AFLAC" in a falsetto duck voice every ten seconds).

I don't know how much more encrypted radios are, but I'm assuming it's more of a budget issue than a technological one, and the very real possibility that the system can be broken anyway. Heck, I'd think using the cellular network would give them more secure communications with better voice quality and less need to maintain expensive radio towers. But that's point-to-point communications and not broadcast like a radio would be (which means a switch operator can't get on a radio and yell that anyone approaching switch XYZ had better stop right now or risk a crash, for example).

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (3, Funny)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944215)

You'd in essence be forcing everyone in the Aviation field who uses comms for anything to upgrade their gear and not improving anything as a result.

I smell another economic stimulus plan brewing... All it needs is a catchy phrase, like "Cash 4 Crashers"

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944715)

I'm glad I don't have any mod points, because I couldn't decide between "Funny" and "Insightful". :)

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

bytethese (1372715) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943435)

Whew, for a second it sounded like a good plot for this Die Hard sequel I wanted to write. Oh wait...

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943495)

It came along with the train, 50 years ago.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (3, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943523)

Becasue the system works fine. When an asshole does screw with it ti gets headlines. That means it's a non common occurrence.

Plus, this guy had an official radio.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944347)

A cryptographic system, properly done, would be able to deal with lost radios.

I realize this wouldn't be directly applicable, but I've run OpenVPN networks before. Each remote machine (laptop, etc), and each server, has its own keypair. Servers, at the very least, can run CRLs -- so if a laptop is stolen, I can revoke its key and deny access right there, without affecting other users.

Radio would suggest a different mechanism, but ultimately, disabling a single missing radio doesn't sound like a particularly difficult task.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

santax (1541065) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943555)

I've heared sort of the same stories from my friends who operate in those fields. One doesn't have to have a rich fantasy to see how this kind of pranks can go horrible wrong.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943607)

Agencies that adopt the "latest and greatest" radio systems may be putting lives at risk [radiosilencefdny.com] .

Digital systems can have transmissions completely garbled or even dropped is the signal isn't just right. Plus, with the data compression, you lose some of the audio quality. With an analog system, the transmission might fade out or sound a little off, but you'll still hear the urgency in someone's cries for help.

Which would you rather have when you're a firefighter trapped in a basement after the floor you were standing on collapsed?

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

xnok (550520) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943703)

There are a number of good reasons why public agencies hesitate to upgrade. First, there are so many of them (agencies and radio systems) around. Yes, the systems are antiquated, and easy to listen or interject into, but given the many millions that are deployed out there, you will incur a huge cost for replacing the existing system. This is complicated by the fact that you often have to use a different frequency band altogether, which could require the use of new base stations, cabling, antennas, etc. If the frequencies are too far apart, you also have to replan your network to account for the gains from technology (channel planning, capacity considerations, network planning, other services you may want to add, etc.) and the losses from possibly moving to a higher frequency.

Second, you cannot compromise public safety during the transition period. This not only applies to the agency that is doing the upgrading, but also to all the others who rely on that agency to provide services. Finally, you have to contend with the chaos during the transition period, when you either have two, probably incompatible, systems in operation. There is also the problem of finding available spectrum and relocating existing users from that band you want to move into (This happened when cellular services were introduced in the US in early 90's and the existing terrestrial microwave links had to be relocated from the 2GHz band to the 6 GHz band).

Yes, many public systems live in the stone age, but it is not because they like living there. There are often very few paths available to modernize cleanly and efficiently without spending a lot of time and money and not risking public safety.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943775)

You call it antiquated, I call it reliable.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943871)

And this is the krux of the matter. It's not really the 20 year old moron's fault that he is able to so easily interject into their system, it's the creator of the system's (the subway's) fault for choosing to use an insecure system. Sure everyone can get mad and point fingers at this stupid kid, or lock him in jail, but that doesn't necessarily accomplish anything as related to the problem the kid pointed out with his actions.

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

Hieyeck (1531177) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943883)

I think they're taking this security-through-obscurity thing a little to far...

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

kalirion (728907) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944073)

Wait, I thought you needed the CIP Device to do that?

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

rcgreenw (120570) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944497)

My point here is that I do not see a reason why public transportation systems still rely on decades-old, non-encrypted technology. With ATC, it's a trivial matter of ordering a handheld on-line that is capable of transmitting on all ATC freqs. Agencies that continue to rely on antiquated systems deserve part of the blame.

The reason aircraft communications rely on non-encrypted, AM radio is every aircraft in the world needs the ability to talk to every other aircraft and every tower in the world. The existing radio system is simple and works with radios installed in planes that have been in service for decades. It is the same with Marine radio, every craft in the world can talk with every other craft and Coast Guard station because the radio system is simple and open. Unless we stop allowing private pilots and captains, the equipment has to be available to everyone, so even if we did convince everyone in the world to switch to a new system, you would still be able to order a radio on-line that would work with the new system. Public transportation agencies, and private transportation companies, could switch to something more complex for internal use, and /\/\otorola would love it if they did, but it would be an expensive solution to a small problem. If they share infrastructure (like railroad tracks), they would also likely have to continue using and maintaining their existing equipment to communicate with other users of the infrastructure. --Rich

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

kahizonaki (1226692) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944967)

Oh noes! So, what if someone with some REAL terrorist intentions got ahold of one of these radios, and actually did his research, and got on the ATC frequency and navigated a plane into something important like

Re:Why is public transport still living in stone a (1)

Bjorn_Redtail (848817) | more than 5 years ago | (#28945255)

Well, even if we did switch to such a system, you could go online and buy a handheld that talks on the new digital spread spectrum encrypted system. The pilots need for backup radios wouldn't go away just because they are using a digital system.

Atlanta airport subway voice and Butt-head (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943119)

The other day I fantasized about hacking into the automated recordings in the Atlanta airport's subway cars (yes, I still miss the old "HAL" voice--PLEASE MOVE TO THE CENTER OF THE VEHICLE AND AWAY FROM THE DOORS). Sure, I'd go to jail for it, but just imagine, preferrably punctuated with lots of "Heh heh heh"s:

"This train is approaching Concourse A. Concourse A, as in ass-munch."
"... Concourse B, as in butt-wipe."
"... Concourse C, as in crapweasel."
"... Concourse D, as in douchebag."

I've spent way too much time in that airport.

Re:Atlanta airport subway voice and Butt-head (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943149)

It wasn't HAL, it was a BSG TOS Cylon voice.

You're right. (Or rather, "By your command.") (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943207)

It wasn't HAL, it was a BSG TOS Cylon voice.

... but everybody did call it HAL.

Tuning a radio now counts as hacking (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943227)

Up next, Man hacks face by growing a beard.

Re:Tuning a radio now counts as hacking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943391)

Wouldn't shaving the beard off be more of a face hacking.

Re:Tuning a radio now counts as hacking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943479)

Depends on how good a job you did.

Re:Tuning a radio now counts as hacking (1)

frozentier (1542099) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943839)

OMG, that actually got me LOL!!!

Re:Tuning a radio now counts as hacking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28944213)

Isnt this also covered under the Patriot act?

"One shall not alter ones appearance in order to "make the sex" with my wife."

Those sunbitches!

Re:Tuning a radio now counts as hacking (1)

xnok (550520) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944411)

Not all that funny. Actually, it does constitute willful interference if you are trying to tune a radio while transmitting a continuous carrier signal.

Could be easily worse (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943255)

This guy would also would have been wise to stand close to a station and transmit at .05mw, greatly lessening the chances of control hearing him. Also would have helped to learn the lingo before jumping the gun. It's a good thing that a skilled soul didn't possess the radio.

There's other talk about the ATC issue, but that's harder to solve. CTA should move to encrypted radios. You can't really use that as an option for ATC as train drivers are a limited pool, whereas ATC frequencies are used by anybody flying a plane.

Oh, and attempting to issue orders to trains that may result in lethal collisions deserves a felony. Chicago deserves only bad press, and hopefully a budget line item for better comms. Much nicer than seeing somebody setup for a decade for screwing with an X-Box.

Re:Could be easily worse (2, Informative)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943507)

Keep in mind that they didn't even DF this guy to catch him - they caught him because he eventually tried to return the radio for a reward and they recognized his voice!

Re:Could be easily worse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943941)

True they didn't use DF, and good on control for recognizing his voice. That said, if they didn't hear him, they might not have belayed his orders, and they wouldn't have known his voice.

Guess this kid never heard that you don't collect the deposit on your rental car after you use it to bomb a building?

Re:Could be easily worse (3, Interesting)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944617)

If CTA instituted a "read-back" policy like what is used in Aviation, they'd have very close to 100% security from invalid instructions at almost no cost.

If "Hackboy" tried to introduce an invalid instruction, even if he was on board the train or at the station so only one side could hear him, the transmission would be identified quickly. Even if Hackboy knew the lingo.

Example:
Hackboy: "Train 123 this is Control, the blockage ahead of you has been cleared, you are cleared to resume full speed."
Train: "Control this is Train 123, Iacknowledge blockage has been cleared, resuming full speed now" (starts to speed up)
Control: "Train 123 NEGATIVE. Train 123 this is Control. Blockage has NOT been cleared. Do not resume speed."
Train: (pulls back speed) "Control, this is Train 123, I have lowered speed, but you said just a second ago that the blockage has been cleared."
Control: "Train 123 this is control. No, I said no such thing. Continue slowly. Do not resume speed until you hear from me and have acknowledged."


Now the Controller and Train know they have a troublemaker in their midst, and the troublemaker has had no real opportunity to cause mischief. With AM, even if the troublemaker had tried to acknowledge and drown out the Controller's negative response, what the train operator would have received is a garbled mess probably containing the yelled word "NEGATIVE" or "DO NOT" somewhere, and he would have likely pulled back on the accelerator and requested clarification.

The reason (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944711)

It's a good thing that a skilled soul didn't possess the radio.

That's because Skilled Souls, are almost never assholes.

At least the kind that would seek to cause a train crash...

Dumbass not terrorist (1)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943475)

Yeah, the guy was a dumbass. Yeah, his pranks could possible maybe caused some trouble. But 'Terrorism Task Force?'. Really? This is what we have 'Terrorism Task Forces' working on?

"You wouldn't want Farmer Jones to come back, would you?"
"No, no, we wouldn't want that. Napolean is always right."

Re:Dumbass not terrorist (1)

Verdatum (1257828) | more than 5 years ago | (#28943793)

Damn. Amazon.com has prevented your quote from showing up on my screen.

Re:Dumbass not terrorist (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943977)

because everybody knows terrorists are darkies

Does anyone ? I mean REALLY know ? REALLY care ? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28943993)

As I was walking down the street one day
A man came up to me and asked me what
The time was that was on my watch, yeah...And I said

(I don't) Does anybody really know what time it is
(Care) Does anybody really care (about time)
If so I can't imagine why (Oh no, no)
We've all got time enough to cry

And I was walking down the street one day
A pretty lady looked at me
And said her diamond watch had stopped cold dead...And I said

(I don't) Does anybody really know what time it is
(Care) Does anybody really care (about time)
If so I can't imagine why (Oh no, no)
We've all got time enough to cry

And I was walking down the street one day
Being pushed and shoved by people trying to
Beat the clock, oh, no I just don't know
I don't know, and I said, yes I said

(Background:)
People runnin' everywhere
Don't know where to go
Don't know where I am
Can't see past the next step
Don't have time to think past the last mile
Have no time to look around
Just run around, run around and think why

(I don't) Does anybody really know what time it is
(Care) Does anybody really care (about time)
If so I can't imagine why (Oh no, no)
We've all got time enough to die
Everybody's working (I don't) I don't care (About time)
About time (Oh no, no) I don't care

other worries (1)

Theodore (13524) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944141)

I also just watched an interview on TV, http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/local&id=6945913 [go.com]
The fact that he got out on such low bond means he probably got SOME kind of lawyer.
The fact that he did the above interview means either he or his attorney are missing a few cycles.

Also, it was said that he did this for a year...
How long is operator radio training?
How many here have had some kind of radio training?
How long did it take you to know the calls and codes?
I'm leaning on the side of stupid.

Re:other worries (1)

The Moof (859402) | more than 5 years ago | (#28944421)

I'm leaning on the side of stupid.

Given the circumstances of his capture, I'd go with that one. According to the local news, he went to the CTA office and asked if there was a reward for returning a stolen CTA radio.

.You fail it? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28945011)

you t0 join the [goat.cx]
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