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Air Traffic Control "Telephone Glitch" Delays Hundreds of UK Flights

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the stay-a-while dept.

United Kingdom 40

First time accepted submitter biodata writes "The BBC is reporting that hundreds of UK commercial air flights have been delayed for most of Saturday due to an internal telephone systems problem in the National Air Traffic Control Service, and delays are likely to continue into the evening. A spokesperson said that it was a different software bug from the one which grounded flights in the summer."

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oh, editorial control (5, Insightful)

richlv (778496) | about a year ago | (#45633153)

"difficult software bug from the one which grounded flights"

well, spellchecker did not complain, so we're all set...

Re:oh, editorial control (1)

richlv (778496) | about a year ago | (#45633177)

it also seems that somebody had to make this change... article has this quote:

The BBC's transport correspondent Richard Westcott said it was a totally different issue to a software problem that hit the control centre in summer.

Re:oh, editorial control (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45633381)

Someone was translating into American and autocorrected a typo.

Re:oh, editorial control (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45633547)

I see ... it's a difficult word and different to spot.

Re:oh, editorial control (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45633247)

Do you ever decide to not use the toilet and instead just poop your pants? Get off on just rolling around in your filth and being a dirty birdie?

Re:oh, editorial control (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45633539)

Much prefer imported poop. It's classier. You're just an amateur.

Re:oh, editorial control (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#45633321)

Sure. It was really not a simple bug to put in, but the programmer who wrote it had already grounded flights in the summer, and thanks to that experience he also managed to put this bug in, despite all its difficulty.

This was definitely not intentional. (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about a year ago | (#45633817)

It's just an unfortunate incident.

British Telecom has had an issue (which has happened a number of times) which led to a minor timing glitch in one of their systems. When this happens, the data reliability on the FARICE line to Iceland drops and you start getting corrupted flight messages. Shanwick was alerted to the problem and both sides consulted and decided that the best solution in the interrim would be something that had been done previously, disconnecting FARICE and thus forcing all connections through the backup line, DANICE, which appeared to be operating normally.

Unfortunately, the problem was even worse on DANICE. What appeared to be normal operation was only normal up to the data logger. Once it actually got to the flight tracking software, the messages were being refused, and corrupted messages being sent in the other direction. So while BT was working on getting their system fixed, flight control managers were being forced to basically manually dig up ATC messages and copy-paste them off to the air traffic controllers (as much was handled through voice as possible as well).

But it got even worse. A totally unrelated communications network, Datalink, decided to misbehave during all of this, which may or may not have been due to the Shanwick problems. On the Iceland side, the general solution is to force a switchover to the backup system. Which was done... except a critical component on the backup system immediately crashed. Repeated attempts to switch and ultimately switch back caused even more problems for the air traffic controllers.

Eventually the fixed FARICE line was brought back up, Datalink back online (with the switchover-crash problem postponed to be investigated during a low-traffic timeperiod)

It's terrible that there were so many delays, but these are extremely complicated systems with a challenging task, built up over decades with tons of computer components, protocols, lines, routers, radar systems, transmitters, and on and on, scattered all over the world. On a weekend. Everyone was scrambling and doing their damndest to fix it as soon as possible. It should also be noted that it was never a safety issue - even in the absolute worst case, air traffic control could go all the way back to the old paper-and-pencil method. What the systems give is, primarily, speed, and thus when there's big problems, there's delays.

And that was my weekend, how was yours? ;)

Re:This was definitely not intentional. (2)

Rei (128717) | about a year ago | (#45633893)

Oh, and I forgot to mention the voice communication systems problem. That one didn't affect me directly but I did get a memo about it.

Re:This was definitely not intentional. (2)

tibit (1762298) | about a year ago | (#45634361)

Of course, I might be entirely off base here, but below is the first impression I got.

Wouldn't a "fix" be as simple as routing all that junk encapsulated over a point-to-point ssh connection between two routers? Doesn't almost any router let you pack up all of the disparate kinds of traffic and push it over a "safe" pipe that doesn't give a flying fuck about datagram corruption? Wouldn't a solution here be, quite literally, two router boxes from any major vendor? Yeah, it may not perform all that great when there's bad corruption, but it will work as much as anything would over that link. What I just don't get is how you can get application-level messages corrupted when all that happens is a bad data link, if that's in fact what was going on. That stuff has been solved long time ago with things as low-key as HDLC and X.25, and if you really need hardcore resiliency to corruption, then I think a PTP link over SSL will not pass anything corrupt to the higher layers even if you do a deliberate MITM, much less from random data corruption.

Re:This was definitely not intentional. (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about a year ago | (#45634905)

mm you do wonder if the fault was in using a modern tcp/ip link rather than an old school error corrected up the wazzo x.25 - on of the problems with OSI was that it had a lot of error correction as was less efficient than TCP/IP

Re:This was definitely not intentional. (1)

Rei (128717) | about a year ago | (#45638397)

The issue is, you deal with the system you're with, not the situation you wish you had.

We can't change a transmission protocol or route data over arbitrary connections. This is a collection of everything from very old hardware to brand new, protocols from very old to brand new, in every country in the world, and you can't just arbitrarily rework them. It's the same in the air, too. And when new protocols are made, they're generally in addition to existing ones, not replacing them. I'm not aware of any with error correcting codes or the like (there could be, I just haven't worked with them), but some of them (not all) use checksums (though that's a whole 'nother story... the documentation on how one common type of checksum, that used in datalink messages, is a big fat lie, caused by a screwup in whoever implmented the code the first time that everyone else now has to imitate... but it works, so...).

In the long run, the goal is to move as much traffic as possible to the more automated, more reliable newer protocols. But this is something that's invariably going to happen at a snail's pace.

As I've never messed with them directly, I can't decribe to you the protocols used for physical data transmission at every point over the FARICE and DANICE links - just the message layer on top of them, which is plaintext except for the header marker characters. I've never worked at anything more than the endpoints. But I can tell you this, there's no way we could just go in and replace all of the hardware along the way (you should see the graph of all of the hardware that exists just between Iceland and Britain). It would be an expensive long-term international effort with major potential for disruption in its own right. And it would only help for that particular link anyway. What you really want is how all of air traffic control messages are transmitted - aircraft, atc, tower, etc - everywhere in the world to be switched over to a single, reliable mechanism and a standardized set of international routing hardware. Well, great, join the club, I'd love that too! But it's just not going to happen any time soon without a massive funding surge.

You work with the systems that you have, not the systems you wish you had. Yes, we're working to modernize everything, just like everyone else. For example, in the past year I've spent a good bit of time working on adding in capabilities to one system to help take a sort of "middleman" server that it talks to out of the loop to improve reliability and error logging. But these things don't happen fast. And how many programmers / hardware engineers do you think we have, really? We're no Microsoft here.

Re:This was definitely not intentional. (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year ago | (#45645011)

Ultimately, there are routers or modems involved, and they push some legacy protocols, and there's a lot of providers out there who offer modules for modern routing hardware that take those old protocols and push them quite transparently over modern data pipes. It's a reasonably well understood problem. It would not require reworking the whole thing, that's the whole point - you take what you have and push the data around using modern hardware that can ensure that the data is safe.

Even if all you have is a 7 bit-only "ASCII" link, you can still push HDLC/X.25 on top of it and then any other protocol you wish on top of that. All it takes is inserting new hardware at key points in the infrastructure. Eventually you can provision alternate links, in an emergency you can leverage public internet - it's better than downtime, and with proper cryptography it's actually more secure than legacy non-encrypted links.

Re:This was definitely not intentional. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45635115)

British Telecom has had an issue (which has happened a number of times) which led to a minor timing glitch in one of their systems.

Given the consequences that's not minor at all. Too many mediocre developers and system administrators think inaccurate time is unimportant. Time affects so many different computer [distributed] sub-systems it's just ridiculous, everything from caches to message ordering to syncing to version control to debugging to timeouts to dependency management to resource sharing etc. One of the first things I do on any system I manage is to make sure I have accurate time, preferably with NTP or GPS.

Not to mention a backup system that failed it's entire reason for existence.

Re:This was definitely not intentional. (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#45654375)

I'll assume that it was only because you were overworked that you missed the humour in my comment. What I did was to give a possible interpretation which would have made the erroneous sentence correct. Of course I didn't mean to imply that someone really added bugs intentionally. At least one person understood it and gave me a "Funny" mod.

But anyway, your comment was full of interesting information, so it was the rare case of a productive Whoosh. Thank you for sharing that information.

How my weekend was? Well, the only thing that failed for me was my own computer, so by far not the same scale as your problems. :-)

Re:oh, editorial control (0)

koan (80826) | about a year ago | (#45633931)

Pilot: "Mountain Ahead"
Plane: "Did you mean maintain altitude?"
Plane: "Maintaining Altitude"

Doesn't ANYONE check for typos anymore? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45633165)

I believe you meant to say "different software bug," not "difficult software bug."

Re:Doesn't ANYONE check for typos anymore? (1)

Stewie241 (1035724) | about a year ago | (#45633185)

This happens enough that I often wonder whether the editors are really that careless, or whether they intentionally insert errors like that in order to provide fodder for those who so enjoy writing posts correcting the article and complaining about the lack of editing. Thorough proofreading would kill one of the memes that makes slashdot what it is.

#badbios - probing for deeper looks at (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45633169)

@Clive Robinson

A lot of people are wondering why dragosr was the only one to run across this malware. In fact, he wasn't. The people who were before him were mocked and most threads closed and either deleted or shuffled to areas of message boards where Joe Q public couldn't see it and question this for themselves. [some] Major Anti-Virus companies included.

Users didn't want to know, companies didn't want to know. Unless you were "known" in the field, like dragosr, and even then, you are handled like you may be retarded or just need a vacation.

Here is one of dozens of reports:

LCD Monitor Broadcasts Noise To Radio! Why? (FRS) []

Final post in that thread:

"BOTTOM LINE: No matter WHAT you do, all devices that use electricity will emit some sort of interference in the air and there's nothing you can do about it without unplugging/turning it off. "


"Have you noticed any nondescript white vans or black helicopters in your neighborhood?

What do you do or have you done to make "them" take such an interest in you that "they" have to bug you?

You need a bigger tinfoil hat, perhaps a full body suit."

Another thread:

Gpu based paravirtualization rootkit, all os vulne []


U.N. report reveals secret law enforcement techniques

"Point 201: Mentions a new covert communications technique using software defined high frequency radio receivers routed through the computer creating no logs, using no central server and extremely difficult for law enforcement to intercept." [] []

I think this is something which has been brewing for years, but "forces" beyond our sight have managed to stifle any serious investigation into the technology. Some have announced they are retreating to ancient technology of the 70's and 80's, others are looking towards open source hardware and software combinations.

Is it time Wireshark included audio monitoring as well? Off to play with a recording device and Audacity. []

Mind Games (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45633183)

Mind Games

        New on the Internet: a community of people who believe the government is beaming voices into their minds. They may be crazy, but the Pentagon has pursued a weapon that can do just that.

        By Sharon Weinberger
        Sunday, January 14, 2007

        IF HARLAN GIRARD IS CRAZY, HE DOESN'T ACT THE PART. He is standing just where he said he would be, below the Philadelphia train station's World War II memorial -- a soaring statue of a winged angel embracing a fallen combatant, as if lifting him to heaven. Girard is wearing pressed khaki pants, expensive-looking leather loafers and a crisp blue button-down. He looks like a local businessman dressed for a casual Friday -- a local businessman with a wickedly dark sense of humor, which had become apparent when he said to look for him beneath "the angel sodomizing a dead soldier." At 70, he appears robust and healthy -- not the slightest bit disheveled or unusual-looking. He is also carrying a bag.

        Girard's description of himself is matter-of-fact, until he explains what's in the bag: documents he believes prove that the government is attempting to control his mind. He carries that black, weathered bag everywhere he goes. "Every time I go out, I'm prepared to come home and find everything is stolen," he says.

        The bag aside, Girard appears intelligent and coherent. At a table in front of Dunkin' Donuts inside the train station, Girard opens the bag and pulls out a thick stack of documents, carefully labeled and sorted with yellow sticky notes bearing neat block print. The documents are an authentic-looking mix of news stories, articles culled from military journals and even some declassified national security documents that do seem to show that the U.S. government has attempted to develop weapons that send voices into people's heads.

        "It's undeniable that the technology exists," Girard says, "but if you go to the police and say, 'I'm hearing voices,' they're going to lock you up for psychiatric evaluation."

        The thing that's missing from his bag -- the lack of which makes it hard to prove he isn't crazy -- is even a single document that would buttress the implausible notion that the government is currently targeting a large group of American citizens with mind-control technology. The only direct evidence for that, Girard admits, lies with alleged victims such as himself.

        And of those, there are many.

        IT'S 9:01 P.M. WHEN THE FIRST PERSON SPEAKS during the Saturday conference call.

        Unsure whether anyone else is on the line yet, the female caller throws out the first question: "You got gang stalking or V2K?" she asks no one in particular.

        There's a short, uncomfortable pause.

        "V2K, really bad. 24-7," a man replies.

        "Gang stalking," another woman says.

        "Oh, yeah, join the club," yet another man replies.

        The members of this confessional "club" are not your usual victims. This isn't a group for alcoholics, drug addicts or survivors of childhood abuse; the people connecting on the call are self-described victims of mind control -- people who believe they have been targeted by a secret government program that tracks them around the clock, using technology to probe and control their minds.

        The callers frequently refer to themselves as TIs, which is short for Targeted Individuals, and talk about V2K -- the official military abbreviation stands for "voice to skull" and denotes weapons that beam voices or sounds into the head. In their esoteric lexicon, "gang stalking" refers to the belief that they are being followed and harassed: by neighbors, strangers or colleagues who are agents for the government.

        A few more "hellos" are exchanged, interrupted by beeps signaling late arrivals: Bill from Columbus, Barbara from Philadelphia, Jim from California and a dozen or so others.

        Derrick Robinson, the conference call moderator, calls order.

        "It's five after 9," says Robinson, with the sweetly reasonable intonation of a late-night radio host. "Maybe we should go ahead and start."

        THE IDEA OF A GROUP OF PEOPLE CONVINCED THEY ARE TARGETED BY WEAPONS that can invade their minds has become a cultural joke, shorthanded by the image of solitary lunatics wearing tinfoil hats to deflect invisible mind beams. "Tinfoil hat," says Wikipedia, has become "a popular stereotype and term of derision; the phrase serves as a byword for paranoia and is associated with conspiracy theorists."

        In 2005, a group of MIT students conducted a formal study using aluminum foil and radio signals. Their surprising finding: Tinfoil hats may actually amplify radio frequency signals. Of course, the tech students meant the study as a joke.

        But during the Saturday conference call, the subject of aluminum foil is deadly serious. The MIT study had prompted renewed debate; while a few TIs realized it was a joke at their expense, some saw the findings as an explanation for why tinfoil didn't seem to stop the voices. Others vouched for the material.

        "Tinfoil helps tremendously," reports one conference call participant, who describes wrapping it around her body underneath her clothing.

        "Where do you put the tinfoil?" a man asks.

        "Anywhere, everywhere," she replies. "I even put it in a hat."

        A TI in an online mind-control forum recommends a Web site called "Block EMF" (as in electromagnetic frequencies), which advertises a full line of clothing, including aluminum-lined boxer shorts described as a "sheer, comfortable undergarment you can wear over your regular one to shield yourself from power lines and computer electric fields, and microwave, radar, and TV radiation." Similarly, a tinfoil hat disguised as a regular baseball cap is "smart and subtle."

        For all the scorn, the ranks of victims -- or people who believe they are victims -- are speaking up. In the course of the evening, there are as many as 40 clicks from people joining the call, and much larger numbers participate in the online forum, which has 143 members. A note there mentioning interest from a journalist prompted more than 200 e-mail responses.

        Until recently, people who believe the government is beaming voices into their heads would have added social isolation to their catalogue of woes. But now, many have discovered hundreds, possibly thousands, of others just like them all over the world. Web sites dedicated to electronic harassment and gang stalking have popped up in India, China, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Russia and elsewhere. Victims have begun to host support meetings in major cities, including Washington. Favorite topics at the meetings include lessons on how to build shields (the proverbial tinfoil hats), media and PR training, and possible legal strategies for outlawing mind control.

        The biggest hurdle for TIs is getting people to take their concerns seriously. A proposal made in 2001 by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) to ban "psychotronic weapons" (another common term for mind-control technology) was hailed by TIs as a great step forward. But the bill was widely derided by bloggers and columnists and quickly dropped.

        Doug Gordon, Kucinich's spokesman, would not discuss mind control other than to say the proposal was part of broader legislation outlawing weapons in space. The bill was later reintroduced, minus the mind control. "It was not the concentration of the legislation, which is why it was tightened up and redrafted," was all Gordon would say.

        Unable to garner much support from their elected representatives, TIs have started their own PR campaign. And so, last spring, the Saturday conference calls centered on plans to hold a rally in Washington. A 2005 attempt at a rally drew a few dozen people and was ultimately rained out; the TIs were determined to make another go of it. Conversations focused around designing T-shirts, setting up congressional appointments, fundraising, creating a new Web site and formalizing a slogan. After some debate over whether to focus on gang stalking or mind control, the group came up with a compromise slogan that covered both: "Freedom From Covert Surveillance and Electronic Harassment."

        Conference call moderator Robinson, who says his gang stalking began when he worked at the National Security Agency in the 1980s, offers his assessment of the group's prospects: Maybe this rally wouldn't produce much press, but it's a first step. "I see this as a movement," he says. "We're picking up people all the time."

        HARLAN GIRARD SAYS HIS PROBLEMS BEGAN IN 1983, while he was a real estate developer in Los Angeles. The harassment was subtle at first: One day a woman pulled up in a car, wagged her finger at him, then sped away; he saw people running underneath his window at night; he noticed some of his neighbors seemed to be watching him; he heard someone moving in the crawl space under his apartment at night.

        Girard sought advice from this then-girlfriend, a practicing psychologist, whom he declines to identify. He says she told him, "Nobody can become psychotic in their late 40s." She said he didn't seem to manifest other symptoms of psychotic behavior -- he dressed well, paid his bills -- and, besides his claims of surveillance, which sounded paranoid, he behaved normally. "People who are psychotic are socially isolated," he recalls her saying.

        After a few months, Girard says, the harassment abruptly stopped. But the respite didn't last. In 1984, appropriately enough, things got seriously weird. He'd left his real estate career to return to school at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was studying for a master's degree in landscape architecture. He harbored dreams of designing parks and public spaces. Then, he says, he began to hear voices. Girard could distinguish several different male voices, which came complete with a mental image of how the voices were being generated: from a recording studio, with "four slops sitting around a card table drinking beer," he says.

        The voices were crass but also strangely courteous, addressing him as "Mr. Girard."

        They taunted him. They asked him if he thought he was normal; they suggested he was going crazy. They insulted his classmates: When an overweight student showed up for a field trip in a white raincoat, they said, "Hey, Mr. Girard, doesn't she look like a refrigerator?"

        Six months after the voices began, they had another question for him: "Mr. Girard, Mr. Girard. Why aren't you dead yet?" At first, he recalls, the voices would speak just two or three times a day, but it escalated into a near-constant cacophony, often accompanied by severe pain all over his body -- which Girard now attributes to directed-energy weapons that can shoot invisible beams.

        The voices even suggested how he could figure out what was happening to him. He says they told him to go to the electrical engineering department to "tell them you're writing science fiction and you don't want to write anything inconsistent with physical reality. Then tell them exactly what has happened."

        Girard went and got some rudimentary explanations of how technology could explain some of the things he was describing.

        "Finally, I said: 'Look, I must come to the point, because I need answers. This is happening to me; it's not science fiction.'" They laughed.

        He got the same response from friends, he says. "They regarded me as crazy, which is a humiliating experience."

        When asked why he didn't consult a doctor about the voices and the pain, he says, "I don't dare start talking to people because of the potential stigma of it all. I don't want to be treated differently. Here I was in Philadelphia. Something was going on, I don't know any doctors . . . I know somebody's doing something to me."

        It was a struggle to graduate, he says, but he was determined, and he persevered. In 1988, the same year he finished his degree, his father died, leaving Girard an inheritance large enough that he did not have to work.

        So, instead of becoming a landscape architect, Girard began a full-time investigation of what was happening to him, often traveling to Washington in pursuit of government documents relating to mind control. He put an ad in a magazine seeking other victims. Only a few people responded. But over the years, as he met more and more people like himself, he grew convinced that he was part of what he calls an "electronic concentration camp."

        What he was finding on his research trips also buttressed his belief: Girard learned that in the 1950s, the CIA had drugged unwitting victims with LSD as part of a rogue mind-control experiment called MK-ULTRA. He came across references to the CIA seeking to influence the mind with electromagnetic fields. Then he found references in an academic research book to work that military researchers at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research had done in the 1970s with pulsed microwaves to transmit words that a subject would hear in his head. Elsewhere, he came across references to attempts to use electromagnetic energy, sound waves or microwave beams to cause non-lethal pain to the body. For every symptom he experienced, he believed he found references to a weapon that could cause it.

        How much of the research Girard cites checks out?

        Concerns about microwaves and mind control date to the 1960s, when the U.S. government discovered that its embassy in Moscow was being bombarded by low-level electromagnetic radiation. In 1965, according to declassified Defense Department documents, the Pentagon, at the behest of the White House, launched Project Pandora, top-secret research to explore the behavioral and biological effects of low-level microwaves. For approximately four years, the Pentagon conducted secret research: zapping monkeys; exposing unwitting sailors to microwave radiation; and conducting a host of other unusual experiments (a sub-project of Project Pandora was titled Project Bizarre). The results were mixed, and the program was plagued by disagreements and scientific squabbles. The "Moscow signal," as it was called, was eventually attributed to eavesdropping, not mind control, and Pandora ended in 1970. And with it, the military's research into so-called non-thermal microwave effects seemed to die out, at least in the unclassified realm.

        But there are hints of ongoing research: An academic paper written for the Air Force in the mid-1990s mentions the idea of a weapon that would use sound waves to send words into a person's head. "The signal can be a 'message from God' that can warn the enemy of impending doom, or encourage the enemy to surrender," the author concluded.

        In 2002, the Air Force Research Laboratory patented precisely such a technology: using microwaves to send words into someone's head. That work is frequently cited on mind-control Web sites. Rich Garcia, a spokesman for the research laboratory's directed energy directorate, declined to discuss that patent or current or related research in the field, citing the lab's policy not to comment on its microwave work.

        In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed for this article, the Air Force released unclassified documents surrounding that 2002 patent -- records that note that the patent was based on human experimentation in October 1994 at the Air Force lab, where scientists were able to transmit phrases into the heads of human subjects, albeit with marginal intelligibility. Research appeared to continue at least through 2002. Where this work has gone since is unclear -- the research laboratory, citing classification, refused to discuss it or release other materials.

        The official U.S. Air Force position is that there are no non-thermal effects of microwaves. Yet Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center, tagged microwave attacks against the human brain as part of future warfare in a 2001 presentation to the National Defense Industrial Association about "Future Strategic Issues."

        "That work is exceedingly sensitive" and unlikely to be reported in any unclassified documents, he says.

        Meanwhile, the military's use of weapons that employ electromagnetic radiation to create pain is well-known, as are some of the limitations of such weapons. In 2001, the Pentagon declassified one element of this research: the Active Denial System, a weapon that uses electromagnetic radiation to heat skin and create an intense burning sensation. So, yes, there is technology designed to beam painful invisible rays at humans, but the weapon seems to fall far short of what could account for many of the TIs' symptoms. While its exact range is classified, Doug Beason, an expert in directed-energy weapons, puts it at about 700 meters, and the beam cannot penetrate a number of materials, such as aluminum. Considering the size of the full-scale weapon, which resembles a satellite dish, and its operational limitations, the ability of the government or anyone else to shoot beams at hundreds of people -- on city streets, into their homes and while they travel in cars and planes -- is beyond improbable.

        But, given the history of America's clandestine research, it's reasonable to assume that if the defense establishment could develop mind-control or long-distance ray weapons, it almost certainly would. And, once developed, the possibility that they might be tested on innocent civilians could not be categorically dismissed.

        Girard, for his part, believes these weapons were not only developed but were also tested on him more than 20 years ago.

        What would the government gain by torturing him? Again, Girard found what he believed to be an explanation, or at least a precedent: During the Cold War, the government conducted radiation experiments on scores of unwitting victims, essentially using them as human guinea pigs. Girard came to believe that he, too, was a walking experiment.

        Not that Girard thinks his selection was totally random: He believes he was targeted because of a disparaging remark he made to a Republican fundraiser about George H.W. Bush in the early 1980s. Later, Girard says, the voices confirmed his suspicion.

        "One night I was going to bed; the usual drivel was going on," he says. "The constant stream of drivel. I was just about to go to bed, and a voice says: 'Mr. Girard, do you know who was in our studio with us? That was George Bush, vice president of the United States.'"

        GIRARD'S STORY, HOWEVER STRANGE, reflects what TIs around the world report: a chance encounter with a government agency or official, followed by surveillance and gang stalking, and then, in many cases, voices, and pain similar to electric shocks. Some in the community have taken it upon themselves to document as many cases as possible. One TI from California conducted about 50 interviews, narrowing the symptoms down to several major areas: "ringing in the ears," "manipulation of body parts," "hearing voices," "piercing sensation on skin," "sinus problems" and "sexual attacks." In fact, the TI continued, "many report the sensation of having their genitalia manipulated."

        Both male and female TIs report a variety of "attacks" to their sexual organs. "My testicles became so sore I could barely walk," Girard says of his early experiences. Others, however, report the attacks in the form of sexual stimulation, including one TI who claims he dropped out of the seminary after constant sexual stimulation by directed-energy weapons. Susan Sayler, a TI in San Diego, says many women among the TIs suffer from attacks to their sexual organs but are often embarrassed to talk about it with outsiders.

        "It's sporadic, you just never know when it will happen," she says. "A lot of the women say it's as soon as you lay down in bed -- that's when you would get hit the worst. It happened to me as I was driving, at odd times."

        What made her think it was an electronic attack and not just in her head? "There was no sexual attraction to a man when it would happen. That's what was wrong. It did not feel like a muscle spasm or whatever," she says. "It's so . . . electronic."

        Gloria Naylor, a renowned African American writer, seems to defy many of the stereotypes of someone who believes in mind control. A winner of the National Book Award, Naylor is best known for her acclaimed novel, The Women of Brewster Place, which described a group of women living in a poor urban neighborhood and was later made into a miniseries by Oprah Winfrey.

        But in 2005, she published a lesser-known work, 1996, a semi-autobiographical book describing her experience as a TI. "I didn't want to tell this story. It's going to take courage. Perhaps more courage than I possess, but they've left me no alternatives," Naylor writes at the beginning of her book. "I am in a battle for my mind. If I stop now, they'll have won, and I will lose myself." The book is coherent, if hard to believe. It's also marked by disturbing passages describing how Jewish American agents were responsible for Naylor's surveillance. "Of the many cars that kept coming and going down my road, most were driven by Jews," she writes in the book. When asked about that passage in a recent interview, she defended her logic: Being from New York, she claimed, she can recognize Jews.

        Naylor lives on a quiet street in Brooklyn in a majestic brownstone with an interior featuring intricate woodwork and tasteful decorations that attest to a successful literary career. She speaks about her situation calmly, occasionally laughing at her own predicament and her struggle with what she originally thought was mental illness. "I would observe myself," she explains. "I would lie in bed while the conversations were going on, and I'd ask: Maybe it is schizophrenia?"

        Like Girard, Naylor describes what she calls "street theater" -- incidents that might be dismissed by others as coincidental, but which Naylor believes were set up. She noticed suspicious cars driving by her isolated vacation home. On an airplane, fellow passengers mimicked her every movement -- like mimes on a street.

        Voices similar to those in Girard's case followed -- taunting voices cursing her, telling her she was stupid, that she couldn't write. Expletive-laced language filled her head. Naylor sought help from a psychiatrist and received a prescription for an antipsychotic drug. But the medication failed to stop the voices, she says, which only added to her conviction that the harassment was real.

        For almost four years, Naylor says, the voices prevented her from writing. In 2000, she says, around the time she discovered the mind-control forums, the voices stopped and the surveillance tapered off. It was then that she began writing 1996 as a "catharsis."

        Colleagues urged Naylor not to publish the book, saying she would destroy her reputation. But she did publish, albeit with a small publishing house. The book was generally ignored by critics but embraced by TIs.

        Naylor is not the first writer to describe such a personal descent. Evelyn Waugh, one of the great novelists of the 20th century, details similar experiences in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Waugh's book, published in 1957, has eerie similarities to Naylor's.

        Embarking on a recuperative cruise, Pinfold begins to hear voices on the ship that he believes are part of a wireless system capable of broadcasting into his head; he believes the instigator recruited fellow passengers to act as operatives; and he describes "performances" put on by passengers directed at him yet meant to look innocuous to others.

        Waugh wrote his book several years after recovering from a similar episode and realizing that the voices and paranoia were the result of drug-induced hallucinations.

        Naylor, who hasn't written a book since 1996, is now back at work on an historical novel she hopes will return her to the literary mainstream. She remains convinced that she was targeted by mind control. The many echoes of her ordeal she sees on the mind-control forums reassure her she's not crazy, she says.

        Of course, some of the things she sees on the forum do strike her as crazy. "But who I am to say?" she says. "Maybe I sound crazy to somebody else."

        SOME TIS, SUCH AS ED MOORE, A YOUNG MEDICAL DOCTOR, take a slightly more skeptical approach. He criticizes what he calls the "wacky claims" of TIs who blame various government agencies or groups of people without any proof. "I have yet to see a claim of who is behind this that has any data to support it," he writes.

        Nonetheless, Moore still believes the voices in his head are the result of mind control and that the U.S. government is the most likely culprit. Moore started hearing voices in 2003, just as he completed his medical residency in anesthesiology; he was pulling an all-nighter studying for board exams when he heard voices coming from a nearby house commenting on him, on his abilities as a doctor, on his sanity. At first, he thought he was simply overhearing conversations through walls (much as Waugh's fictional alter ego first thought), but when no one else could hear the voices, he realized they were in his head. Moore went through a traumatic two years, including hospitalization for depression with auditory hallucinations.

        "One tries to convince friends and family that you are being electronically harassed with voices that only you can hear," he writes in an e-mail. "You learn to stop doing that. They don't believe you, and they become sad and concerned, and it amplifies your own depression when you have voices screaming at you and your friends and family looking at you as a helpless, sick, mentally unbalanced wreck."

        He says he grew frustrated with anti-psychotic medications meant to stop the voices, both because the treatments didn't work and because psychiatrists showed no interest in what the voices were telling him. He began to look for some other way to cope.

        "In March of 2005, I started looking up support groups on the Internet," he wrote. "My wife would cry when she would see these sites, knowing I still heard voices, but I did not know what else to do." In 2006, he says, his wife, who had stood by him for three years, filed for divorce.

        Moore, like other TIs, is cautious about sharing details of his life. He worries about looking foolish to friends and colleagues -- but he says that risk is ultimately worthwhile if he can bring attention to the issue.

        With his father's financial help, Moore is now studying for an electrical engineering degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio, hoping to prove that V2K, the technology to send voices into people's heads, is real. Being in school, around other people, helps him cope, he writes, but the voices continue to taunt him.

        Recently, he says, they told him: "We'll never stop [messing] with you."

        A WEEK BEFORE THE TIS RALLY ON THE NATIONAL MALL, John Alexander, one of the people whom Harlan Girard holds personally responsible for the voices in his head, is at a Chili's restaurant in Crystal City explaining over a Philly cheese steak and fries why the United States needs mind-control weapons.

        A former Green Beret who served in Vietnam, Alexander went on to a number of national security jobs, and rubbed shoulders with prominent military and political leaders. Long known for taking an interest in exotic weapons, his 1980 article, "The New Mental Battlefield," published in the Army journal Military Review, is cited by self-described victims as proof of his complicity in mind control. Now retired from the government and living in Las Vegas, Alexander continues to advise the military. He is in the Washington area that day for an official meeting.

        Beneath a shock of white hair is the mind of a self-styled military thinker. Alexander belongs to a particular set of Pentagon advisers who consider themselves defense intellectuals, focusing on big-picture issues, future threats and new capabilities. Alexander's career led him from work on sticky foam that would stop an enemy in his or her tracks to dalliances in paranormal studies and psychics, which he still defends as operationally useful.

        In an earlier phone conversation, Alexander said that in the 1990s, when he took part in briefings at the CIA, there was never any talk of "mind control, or mind-altering drugs or technologies, or anything like that."

        According to Alexander, the military and intelligence agencies were still scared by the excesses of MK-ULTRA, the infamous CIA program that involved, in part, slipping LSD to unsuspecting victims. "Until recently, anything that smacked of [mind control] was extremely dangerous" because Congress would simply take the money away, he said.

        Alexander acknowledged that "there were some abuses that took place," but added that, on the whole, "I would argue we threw the baby out with the bath water."

        But September 11, 2001, changed the mood in Washington, and some in the national security community are again expressing interest in mind control, particularly a younger generation of officials who weren't around for MK-ULTRA. "It's interesting, that it's coming back," Alexander observed.

        While Alexander scoffs at the notion that he is somehow part of an elaborate plot to control people's minds, he acknowledges support for learning how to tap into a potential enemy's brain. He gives as an example the possible use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, for lie detection. "Brain mapping" with fMRI theoretically could allow interrogators to know when someone is lying by watching for activity in particular parts of the brain. For interrogating terrorists, fMRI could come in handy, Alexander suggests. But any conceivable use of the technique would fall far short of the kind of mind-reading TIs complain about.

        Alexander also is intrigued by the possibility of using electronic means to modify behavior. The dilemma of the war on terrorism, he notes, is that it never ends. So what do you do with enemies, such as those at Guantanamo: keep them there forever? That's impractical. Behavior modification could be an alternative, he says.

        "Maybe I can fix you, or electronically neuter you, so it's safe to release you into society, so you won't come back and kill me," Alexander says. It's only a matter of time before technology allows that scenario to come true, he continues. "We're now getting to where we can do that." He pauses for a moment to take a bite of his sandwich. "Where does that fall in the ethics spectrum? That's a really tough question."

        When Alexander encounters a query he doesn't want to answer, such as one about the ethics of mind control, he smiles and raises his hands level to his chest, as if balancing two imaginary weights. In one hand is mind control and the sanctity of free thought -- and in the other hand, a tad higher -- is the war on terrorism.

        But none of this has anything to do with the TIs, he says. "Just because things are secret, people tend to extrapolate. Common sense does not prevail, and even when you point out huge leaps in logic that just cannot be true, they are not dissuaded."

        WHAT IS IT THAT BRINGS SOMEONE, EVEN AN INTELLIGENT PERSON, to ascribe the experience of hearing disembodied voices to government weapons?

        In her book, Abducted, Harvard psychologist Susan Clancy examines a group that has striking parallels to the TIs: people who believe they've been kidnapped by aliens. The similarities are often uncanny: Would-be abductees describe strange pains, and feelings of being watched or targeted. And although the alleged abductees don't generally have auditory hallucinations, they do sometimes believe that their thoughts are controlled by aliens, or that they've been implanted with advanced technology.

        (On the online forum, some TIs posted vociferous objections to the parallel, concerned that the public finds UFOs even weirder than mind control. "It will keep us all marginalized and discredited," one griped.)

        Clancy argues that the main reason people believe they've been abducted by aliens is that it provides them with a compelling narrative to explain their perception that strange things have happened to them, such as marks on their bodies (marks others would simply dismiss as bruises), stimulation to their sexual organs (as the TIs describe) or feelings of paranoia. "It's not just an explanation for your problems; it's a source of meaning for your life," Clancy says.

        In the case of TIs, mind-control weapons are an explanation for the voices they hear in their head. Socrates heard a voice and thought it was a demon; Joan of Arc heard voices from God. As one TI noted in an e-mail: "Each person undergoing this harassment is looking for the solution to the problem. Each person analyzes it through his or her own particular spectrum of beliefs. If you are a scientific-minded person, then you will probably analyze the situation from that perspective and conclude it must be done with some kind of electronic devices. If you are a religious person, you will see it as a struggle between the elements of whatever religion you believe in. If you are maybe, perhaps more eccentric, you may think that it is alien in nature."

        Or, if you happen to live in the United States in the early 21st century, you may fear the growing power of the NSA, CIA and FBI.

        Being a victim of government surveillance is also, arguably, better than being insane. In Waugh's novella based on his own painful experience, when Pinfold concludes that hidden technology is being used to infiltrate his brain, he "felt nothing but gratitude in his discovery." Why? "He might be unpopular; he might be ridiculous; but he was not mad."

        Ralph Hoffman, a professor of psychiatry at Yale who has studied auditory hallucinations, regularly sees people who believe the voices are a part of government harassment (others believe they are God, dead relatives or even ex-girlfriends). Not all people who hear voices are schizophrenic, he says, noting that people can hear voices episodically in highly emotional states. What exactly causes these voices is still unknown, but one thing is certain: People who think the voices are caused by some external force are rarely dissuaded from their delusional belief, he says. "These are highly emotional and gripping experiences that are so compelling for them that ordinary reality seems bland."

        Perhaps because the experience is so vivid, he says, even some of those who improve through treatment merely decide the medical regimen somehow helped protect their brain from government weapons.

        Scott Temple, a professor of psychiatry at Penn State University who has been involved in two recent studies of auditory hallucinations, notes that those who suffer such hallucinations frequently lack insight into their illness. Even among those who do understand they are sick, "that awareness comes and goes," he says. "People feel overwhelmed, and the delusional interpretations return."

        BACK AT THE PHILADELPHIA TRAIN STATION, Girard seems more agitated. In a meeting the week before, his "handlers" had spoken to him only briefly -- they weren't in the right position to attack him, Girard surmises, based on the lack of voices. Today, his conversation jumps more rapidly from one subject to the next: victims of radiation experiments, his hatred of George H.W. Bush, MK-ULTRA, his personal experiences.

        Asked about his studies at Penn, he replies by talking about his problems with reading: "I told you, everything I write they dictate to me," he says, referring again to the voices. "When I read, they're reading to me. My eyes go across; they're moving my eyes down the line. They're reading it to me. When I close the book, I can't remember a thing I read. That's why they do it."

        The week before, Girard had pointed to only one person who appeared suspicious to him -- a young African American man reading a book; this time, however, he hears more voices, which leads him to believe the station is crawling with agents.

        "Let's change our location," Girard says after a while. "I'm sure they have 40 or 50 people in here today. I escaped their surveillance last time -- they won't let that happen again."

        Asked to explain the connection between mind control and the University of Pennsylvania, which Girard alleges is involved in the conspiracy, he begins to talk about defense contractors located near the Philadelphia campus: "General Electric was right next to the parking garage; General Electric Space Systems occupies a huge building right over there. From that building, you could see into the studio where I was doing my work most of the time. I asked somebody what they were doing there. You know, it had to do with computers. GE Space Systems. They were supposed to be tracking missile debris from this location . . . pardon me. What was your question again?"

        Yet many parts of Girard's life seem to reflect that of any affluent 70-year-old bachelor. He travels frequently to France for extended vacations and takes part in French cultural activities in Philadelphia. He has set up a travel scholarship at the Cleveland Institute of Art in the name of his late mother, who attended school there (he changed his last name 27 years ago for "personal reasons"), and he travels to meet the students who benefit from the fund. And while the bulk of his time is spent on his research and writing about mind control, he has other interests. He follows politics and describes outings with friends and family members with whom he doesn't talk about mind control, knowing they would view it skeptically.

        Girard acknowledges that some of his experiences mirror symptoms of schizophrenia, but asked if he ever worried that the voices might in fact be caused by mental illness, he answers sharply with one word: "No."

        How, then, does he know the voices are real?

        "How do you know you know anything?" Girard replies. "How do you know I exist? How do you know this isn't a dream you're having, from which you'll wake up in a few minutes? I suppose that analogy is the closest thing: You know when you have a dream. Sometimes it could be perfectly lucid, but you know it's a dream."

        The very "realness" of the voices is the issue -- how do you disbelieve something you perceive as real? That's precisely what Hoffman, the Yale psychiatrist, points out: So lucid are the voices that the sufferers -- regardless of their educational level or self-awareness -- are unable to see them as anything but real. "One thing I can assure you," Hoffman says, "is that for them, it feels real."

        IT LOOKS ALMOST LIKE ANY OTHER SMALL POLITICAL RALLY IN WASHINGTON. Posters adorn the gate on the southwest side of the Capitol Reflecting Pool, as attendees set up a table with press materials, while volunteers test a loudspeaker and set out coolers filled with bottled water. The sun is out, the weather is perfect, and an eclectic collection of people from across the country has gathered to protest mind control.

        There is not a tinfoil hat to be seen. Only the posters and paraphernalia hint at the unusual. "Stop USA electronic harassment," urges one poster. "Directed Energy Assaults," reads another. Smaller signs in the shape of tombstones say, "RIP MKULTRA." The main display, set in front of the speaker's lectern has a more extended message: "HELP STOP HI-TECH ASSAULT PSYCHOTRONIC TORTURE."

        About 35 TIs show up for the June rally, in addition to a few friends and family members. Speakers alternate between giving personal testimonials and descriptions of research into mind-control technology. Most of the gawkers at the rally are foreign tourists. A few hecklers snicker at the signs, but mostly people are either confused or indifferent. The articles on mind control at the table -- from mainstream news magazines -- go untouched.

        "How can you expect people to get worked up over this if they don't care about eavesdropping or eminent domain?" one man challenges after stopping to flip through the literature. Mary Ann Stratton, who is manning the table, merely shrugs and smiles sadly. There is no answer: Everyone at the rally acknowledges it is an uphill battle.

        In general, the outlook for TIs is not good; many lose their jobs, houses and family. Depression is common. But for many at the rally, experiencing the community of mind-control victims seems to help. One TI, a man who had been a rescue swimmer in the Coast Guard before voices in his head sent him on a downward spiral, expressed the solace he found among fellow TIs in a long e-mail to another TI: "I think that the only people that can help are people going through the same thing. Everyone else will not believe you, or they are possibly involved."

        In the end, though, nothing could help him enough. In August 2006, he would commit suicide.

        But at least for the day, the rally is boosting TI spirits. Girard, in what for him is an ebullient mood, takes the microphone. A small crowd of tourists gathers at the sidelines, listening with casual interest. With the Capitol looming behind him, he reaches the crescendo of his speech, rallying the attendees to remember an important thing: They are part of a single community.

        "I've heard it said, 'We can't get anywhere because everyone's story is different.' We are all the same," Girard booms. "You knew someone with the power to commit you to the electronic concentration camp system."

        Several weeks after the rally, Girard shows up for a meeting with a reporter at the stately Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where he has stayed frequently over the two decades he has traveled to the capital to battle mind control. He walks in with a lit cigarette, which he apologetically puts out after a hotel employee tells him smoking isn't allowed anymore. He is half an hour late -- delayed, he says, by a meeting on Capitol Hill. Wearing a monogrammed dress shirt and tie, he looks, as always, serious and professional.

        Girard declines to mention whom on Capitol Hill he'd met with, other than to say it was a congressional staffer. Embarrassment is likely a factor: Girard readily acknowledges that most people he meets with, ranging from scholars to politicians, ignore his entreaties or dismiss him as a lunatic.

        Lately, his focus is on his Web site, which he sees as the culmination of nearly a quarter-century of research. When completed, it will contain more than 300 pages of documents. What next? Maybe he'll move to France (there are victims there, too), or maybe the U.S. government will finally just kill him, he says.

        Meanwhile, he is always searching for absolute proof that the government has decoded the brain. His latest interest is LifeLog, a project once funded by the Pentagon that he read about in Wired News. The article described it this way: "The embryonic LifeLog program would dump everything an individual does into a giant database: every e-mail sent or received, every picture taken, every Web page surfed, every phone call made, every TV show watched, every magazine read. All of this -- and more -- would combine with information gleaned from a variety of sources: a GPS transmitter to keep tabs on where that person went, audiovisual sensors to capture what he or she sees or says, and biomedical monitors to keep track of the individual's health."

        Girard suggests that the government, using similar technology, has "catalogued" his life over the past two years -- every sight and sound (Evelyn Waugh, in his mind-control book, writes about his character's similar fear that his harassers were creating a file of his entire life).

        Girard thinks the government can control his movements, inject thoughts into his head, cause him pain day and night. He believes that he will die a victim of mind control.

        Is there any reason for optimism?

        Girard hesitates, then asks a rhetorical question.

        "Why, despite all this, why am I the same person? Why am I Harlan Girard?"

        For all his anguish, be it the result of mental illness or, as Girard contends, government mind control, the voices haven't managed to conquer the thing that makes him who he is: Call it his consciousness, his intellect or, perhaps, his soul.

        "That's what they don't yet have," he says. After 22 years, "I'm still me."

        Sharon Weinberger is a Washington writer and author of Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld. She will be fielding questions and comments about this article Tuesday at

        View all comments that have been posted about this article.
        © 2007 The Washington Post Company

        Source: []

Re:Mind Games (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45633561)

Could I maybe get a tl;dr on that?

bad BIOS saga continues - 12/2013 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45633193)

Scientist-developed malware prototype covertly jumps air gaps using inaudible sound
Malware communicates at a distance of 65 feet using built-in mics and speakers.

by Dan Goodin - Dec 2, 2013 7:29 pm UTC [] []

"Dan is the IT Security Editor at Ars Technica, which he joined in 2012 after working for The Register, the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, and other publications." []

Topology of a covert mesh network that connects air-gapped computers to the Internet: [] []

"Computer scientists have proposed a malware prototype that uses inaudible audio signals to communicate, a capability that allows the malware to covertly transmit keystrokes and other sensitive data even when infected machines have no network connection.

The proof-of-concept software-or malicious trojans that adopt the same high-frequency communication methods-could prove especially adept in penetrating highly sensitive environments that routinely place an "air gap" between computers and the outside world. Using nothing more than the built-in microphones and speakers of standard computers, the researchers were able to transmit passwords and other small amounts of data from distances of almost 65 feet. The software can transfer data at much greater distances by employing an acoustical mesh network made up of attacker-controlled devices that repeat the audio signals.

The researchers, from Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing, and Ergonomics[1], recently disclosed their findings in a paper published in the Journal of Communications[2]. It came a few weeks after a security researcher said his computers were infected with a mysterious piece of malware that used high-frequency transmissions to jump air gaps[3]. The new research neither confirms nor disproves Dragos Ruiu's claims of the so-called badBIOS infections, but it does show that high-frequency networking is easily within the grasp of today's malware."

[1] []
[2] []
[3] []

""In our article, we describe how the complete concept of air gaps can be considered obsolete as commonly available laptops can communicate over their internal speakers and microphones and even form a covert acoustical mesh network," one of the authors, Michael Hanspach, wrote in an e-mail. "Over this covert network, information can travel over multiple hops of infected nodes, connecting completely isolated computing systems and networks (e.g. the internet) to each other. We also propose some countermeasures against participation in a covert network."

The researchers developed several ways to use inaudible sounds to transmit data between two Lenovo T400 laptops using only their built-in microphones and speakers. The most effective technique relied on software originally developed to acoustically transmit data under water. Created by the Research Department for Underwater Acoustics and Geophysics in Germany, the so-called adaptive communication system (ACS) modem was able to transmit data between laptops as much as 19.7 meters (64.6 feet) apart. By chaining additional devices that pick up the signal and repeat it to other nearby devices, the mesh network can overcome much greater distances.

The ACS modem provided better reliability than other techniques that were also able to use only the laptops' speakers and microphones to communicate. Still, it came with one significant drawback-a transmission rate of about 20 bits per second, a tiny fraction of standard network connections. The paltry bandwidth forecloses the ability of transmitting video or any other kinds of data with large file sizes. The researchers said attackers could overcome that shortcoming by equipping the trojan with functions that transmit only certain types of data, such as login credentials captured from a keylogger or a memory dumper.

"This small bandwidth might actually be enough to transfer critical information (such as keystrokes)," Hanspach wrote. "You don't even have to think about all keystrokes. If you have a keylogger that is able to recognize authentication materials, it may only occasionally forward these detected passwords over the network, leading to a very stealthy state of the network. And you could forward any small-sized information such as private encryption keys or maybe malicious commands to an infected piece of construction."
Remember Flame?

The hurdles of implementing covert acoustical networking are high enough that few malware developers are likely to add it to their offerings anytime soon. Still, the requirements are modest when measured against the capabilities of Stuxnet, Flame, and other state-sponsored malware discovered in the past 18 months. And that means that engineers in military organizations, nuclear power plants, and other truly high-security environments should no longer assume that computers isolated from an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection are off limits.

The research paper suggests several countermeasures that potential targets can adopt. One approach is simply switching off audio input and output devices, although few hardware designs available today make this most obvious countermeasure easy. A second approach is to employ audio filtering that blocks high-frequency ranges used to covertly transmit data. Devices running Linux can do this by using the advanced Linux Sound Architecture in combination with the Linux Audio Developer's Simple Plugin API. Similar approaches are probably available for Windows and Mac OS X computers as well. The researchers also proposed the use of an audio intrusion detection guard, a device that would "forward audio input and output signals to their destination and simultaneously store them inside the guard's internal state, where they are subject to further analyses."


On Wednesday Hanspach issued the following statement:

        Fraunhofer FKIE is actively involved in information security research. Our mission is to strengthen security by the means of early detection and prevention of potential threats. The research on acoustical mesh networks in air was aimed at demonstrating the upcoming threat of covert communication technologies. Fraunhofer FKIE does not develop any malware or viruses and the presented proof-of-concept does not spread to other computing systems, but constitutes only a covert communication channel between hypothetical instantiations of a malware. The ultimate goal of the presented research project is to raise awareness for these kinds of attacks, and to deliver appropriate countermeasures to our customers.

Story updated to add "prototype" to the first sentence and headline and to change "developed" to "proposed," in the first sentence. The changes are intended to make clear the researchers have not created a piece of working malware."

RE: #badBIOS, badBIOS, bad BIOS

Some User Comments:

"What makes so many people here think that getting a computer first infected is such an impossible task?

Who is to To say computers don't come pre-configured with that ability in hardware, say the CPU? We know that the NSA has altered silicon in the "distant" past and if there is anything recent revelations have taught us then it is that things have only ever become technically more advanced and aggressive in the last ten years or so.

Remember: just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they are not out to get you....Australia being happy to share medical records of its ordinary citizens being a prime example of that in today's press."

Amadeus71 Smack-Fu Master, in traininget Subscriptor []


"This was controversial at the time Dragos Ruiu brought it up. My guess was that it was possible, I'm glad to see someone actually put in the hard work to find out! Good job Fraunhofer."

MujokanArs Praetorian []


"Human hearing also gets worse at high frequencies before cutting out: []

Several years ago, I had a neighbor with an old-fangled CRT TV. I couldn't hear its 15.9kHz squeal from my apartment, but it did show up clearly in spectral graphs of recordings I made while it was on. It's not hard to imagine something using audio band frequencies at volumes low enough to escape audibility but still able to be picked up by nearby microphones."

LnxPrgr3 Smack-Fu Master, in training []


"The signal can be hidden in fully audible sounds, so that wouldn't help much. As other commenters have alluded, using spread-spectrum techniques, a signal can be hidden in a way that looks like just part of the ambient noise environment, at many different frequencies, perhaps both at the same time and in a time-varying distribution. For example, if there is a fan (perhaps a notebook fan) going in the environment, that can be measured, and information could be encoded in a slight deformation of that sound signature, in a way that no one would notice. Or if someone is speaking, tiny undetectable side-frequencies could be added in a way that sounds like part of their voice, but isn't really. Or if you use a random spread-spectrum approach, it could just sound like a slight bit of white noise in the background, a little hiss, that mingles with all the noise around you.

Be afraid. In cyberspace, all microphones can hear you scream."

AreWeThereYeti Ars Scholae Palatinaeet Subscriptor []

"If you're breaking your laptop open to put a capacitor across your speaker why not cut the wires or put a mechanical switch in instead?"

Wickwick Ars Scholae Palatinae []

"Personally I would physically disable every mic and speaker on these air-gapped computers, juts in case."

blacke Ars Praetorianet Subscriptor []

"I wonder if you couldn't just cut off a jack from some old headphones, and keep it plugged in as a countermeasure..."

zantoka Smack-Fu Master, in training []

"NorthGuy wrote:
My florescent light has been buzzing for weeks, do you think it's trying to hack my computer?"

Li-Fi []

Jimmy McNulty Smack-Fu Master, in training []

"are the sounds in their [mainstream] music transmitting data to invaded brains?"

DaHum Smack-Fu Master, in training []


The New Zealand Copyright Act 1994 specifies certain circumstances where all or a substantial part of a copyright work may be used without the copyright owner's permission. A "fair dealing" with copyright material does not infringe copyright if it is for the following purposes: research or private study; criticism or review; or reporting current events.


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Researchers create malware that communicates via silent sound, no network needed

"When security researcher Dragos Ruiu claimed malware dubbed "badBIOS"[1] allowed infected machines to communicate using sound waves alone-no network connection needed-people said he was crazy. New research from Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing, and Ergonomics suggests he's all too sane.

As outlined in the Journal of Communications (PDF)[2] and first spotted by ArsTechnica[3], the proof-of-concept malware prototype from Michael Hanspach and Michael Goetz can transmit information between computers using high-frequency sound waves inaudible to the human ear. The duo successfully sent passwords and more between non-networked Lenovo T400 laptops via the notebooks' built-in microphones and speakers. Freaky-deaky!

"The infected victim sends all recorded keystrokes to the covert acoustical mesh network. Infected drones forward the keystroke information inside the covert network till the attacker is reached."

The most successful method was based on software developed for underwater communications. The laptops could communicate a full 65 feet apart from each other, and the researchers say the range could be extended by chaining devices together in an audio "mesh" network, similar to the way Wi-Fi repeaters work.

While the research doesn't prove Ruiu's badBIOS claims, it does show that the so-called "air gap" defense-that is, leaving computers with critical information disconnected from any networks-could still be vulnerable to dedicated attackers, if attackers are first able to infect the PC with audio mesh-enabled malware."

[1] []
[2] []
[3] []


Sending data via sound []


"Transmitting data via sound waves has one glaring drawback, however: It's slow. Terribly slow. Hanspach and Goetz's malware topped out at a sluggish 20 bits-per-second transfer rate, but that was still fast enough to transmit keystrokes, passwords, PGP encryption keys, and other small bursts of information.

"We use the keylogging software logkeys for our experiment," they wrote. "The infected victim sends all recorded keystrokes to the covert acoustical mesh network. Infected drones forward the keystroke information inside the covert network till the attacker is reached, who is now able to read the current keyboard input of the infected victim from a distant place."

In another test, the researchers used sound waves to send keystroke information to a network-connected computer, which then sent the information to the "attacker" via email.

Now for the good news: This advanced proof-of-concept prototype isn't likely to work its way into everyday malware anytime soon, especially since badware that communicates via normal Net means should be all that's needed to infect the PCs of most users. Nevertheless, it's ominous to see the last-line "air gap" defense fall prey to attack-especially in an age of state-sponsored malware run rampant."


The New Zealand Copyright Act 1994 specifies certain circumstances where all or a substantial part of a copyright work may be used without the copyright owner's permission. A "fair dealing" with copyright material does not infringe copyright if it is for the following purposes: research or private study; criticism or review; or reporting current events.



I choose to believe... (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a year ago | (#45633201)

Samzenpus chose to combine different cult using an ultra-liberal poetic license. Bugs are not an option with this telephone system... they come bundled with it.

I work as part of the team... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45633277)

And this is the reason [] for this bug :-(

Re:I work as part of the team... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about a year ago | (#45633483)

Yeah I can understand that - after seeing goatse you cannot concentrate on your programming and create all sort of nasty bugs ...

Re:I work as part of the team... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45633513)


Re:I work as part of the team... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45634625)

And yet you fell for it.

Time to Scale back on Computerisation (1, Interesting)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | about a year ago | (#45633385)

This wouldn't -- no counldn't have happenned in the days before computers.

Eventually, I think centralised computer control is going to go the way of semaphore. It's too easy for a centralised computer system to glitch, break, be shutdown, and then screw up the lives and functions of millions.

What we should see is decentralised systems run using independent computer systems.

Re:Time to Scale back on Computerisation (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45633435)

Yeah no. Probably not.

The efficiency gains from centrally controlled, fully integrated computer systems simply dwarf any benefits you might get from time to time with a distributed system.

A central computer with occasional downtime is acceptable when the alternative is a stupid, slow clerical system every day, all the time. "Clerical" is what disparate, independent systems always break down to because of the amount of human effort required to keep them working together.

Re:Time to Scale back on Computerisation (1)

0123456 (636235) | about a year ago | (#45633803)

What efficiency gains? Airlines would be far more efficient if they could fly direct from A to B, rather than being funneled into narrow corridors. Pretty much since the advent of GPS, people have been trying to get rid of 'air traffic control' and replace it by direct communication between aircraft which know where they're going and where they want to go.

Re:Time to Scale back on Computerisation (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year ago | (#45633515)

This wouldn't -- no counldn't have happenned in the days before computers.

And we wouldn't have all these Tesla fires holding back the adoption of the electric car if we'd just stuck with horses and carts.

Also, without the internet paedophiles wouldn't have easy access to kiddy porn. Won't someone (else) puhlease think of the children?!

What we should see is decentralised systems run using independent computer systems.

Got much experience of ATC systems?

Re:Time to Scale back on Computerisation (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | about a year ago | (#45634415)

Also, without the internet paedophiles wouldn't have easy access to kiddy porn.

Without the internet, how the hell would anyone know what they had access to? There was something called privacy before the Internet came along.

Re:Time to Scale back on Computerisation (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#45636653)

What we should see is decentralised systems run using independent computer systems.

How about some updates? These are old-ass systems developed incrementally. It's time to spend some money modernising and unifying them.

RTFA says it's not telephones (0)

swschrad (312009) | about a year ago | (#45633495)

but a day/night switchover.

which means they have back-assward management in the first place, for not operating a life-safety system as a 24/7 operation.

carbon-based computation should not be part of the core logic on which the air control system rests.

Re:RTFA says it's not telephones (5, Informative)

jonbryce (703250) | about a year ago | (#45633605)

They do operate it as a 24/7 operation. However, at night time there are less planes in the sky, so each traffic controller is given a bigger area to work on and there are fewer of them on duty. During day time, these areas are subdivided into smaller areas and more controllers are brought on-line to work on the larger number of areas. It was this switch-over that failed.

Internal telephone systems problem? (1)

codeusirae (3036835) | about a year ago | (#45633681)

`One of the key changes involves improving the warning messages that flash on the air traffic controllers' screens when an aircraft moves out of their area of control and responsibility. The aim is for a warning to flash on the display to remind the controllers to ensure that they have completed all their co-ordination checks before an aircraft leaves their screen and becomes the responsibility of others.

"There is a quirk over whether it flashes or not," says Chisholm. "We want it to work in 100% of cases".

It is important to fix this problem because the Swanwick system, unlike the current manual process, supports the automated transfer of aircraft from one air space sector to another.

Currently at the London Air Traffic Control Centre, when controllers relinquish responsibility for an aircraft, they confirm this by phoning the appropriate new controller. This will not happen under the new automated procedures at Swanwick
'. link []

Re:Internal telephone systems problem? (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year ago | (#45634379)

And this is how government organizations perform in the 21st century. Facepalm...

Re:Internal telephone systems problem? (1)

Capt. Mubbers (206692) | about a year ago | (#45635057)

NATS ( is 51% in private ownership, and 42% is actually owned by large airlines

Re:Internal telephone systems problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45637011)

When a system 100% has to fail safe, often the only way is to fail into the hands of a human doing shit manually.

I caught the beginning of this... (1)

dwater (72834) | about a year ago | (#45635165)

I was traveling from Heathrow to Beijing via Helsinki (5.5 hour lay-over) that was supposed to leave LHR at 7:30 but was delayed until 9:00...the estimated departure moved again backwards and forwards once (after we got on the plane), but it seemed to be a minor delay from my point of view.

The most annoying thing was that the online systems weren't showing the disruption. I was looking at the departure board at LHR and it was showing the delay (though it took a while), but the online web page and the 'Heathrow App' for my android phone both showed no delay even though it was ~8am already. I was due to meet someone for lunch (during my 5.5 hour lay-over) and I had smsed them about the delay, but they had called the airport authority and were told there was no delay, and so they experienced some inconvenience while they waited.

The good thing was that the flight from Helsinki to Beijing was very sparse, and I was able to use a whole 4-seat row to sleep on - I guess many flights missed the connection. Sucks to be them, but good for me, I suppose :)

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