back to article GCHQ man: Powerline networks do interfere with radio

A document prepared by the spectrum manager of secret UK listening agency GCHQ, though disavowed by the organisation, has drawn more attention to the interference kicked out by powerline networking kit. The letter was prepared by [a government employee we have been asked not to name], of government-spy outfit GCHQ, and suggests …

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just buy a bigger aerial

Won’t that just pick up more interference too?

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Coat

Yay for Number Stations

Before any one says "Why don't they just use the internet" I'll explain:

1. Radio doesn't have a definitive 'end point', you can find out where it's being transmitted but you can't find out who is receiving it or where they are (only make an educated guess). With the internet they'll be logs and an IP it needs to be sent to.

2. Radios are cheap and ubiquitous, if you were an operative working in the middle east and you were carrying around some kind of uber smart phone to do your decrypting, you'll stand out like a sore thumb. A shortwave receiver and a pen and pencil can be found almost anywhere on the planet.

Most governments don't really use Number Stations any more, the UK one shut down a long time ago (google Lincolnshire Poacher) although the Chinese still use them quite a bit.

Mines the one with the Degen 1103 in the pocket.

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Number stations

"Numbers Stations are mysterious radio broadcasts that have been around since the 1950s. They transmit what appear to be random numbers, spoken aloud, and are assumed to be broadcast instructions for operating spies."

Are you saying Hurley won the lottery after using numbers broadcast by secret squirrel?

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Paris Hilton

Around since the 50s

Numbers Stations appeared around the same time as their brothers, the TV Detector Vans.

Both are crucial to the functioning of society, although both (alledgedly) exist only in the UK.

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Anonymous Coward

Really?

Since when did numbers stations exist only in the UK? Indeed it would be an low power SW signal that didn't reach across borders.

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Time Lord?

"The letter was prepared in May, leaked in March, and the pdf is now available on the Ban PLT web site."

Leaked two months before it was written - or is there a year missed off the months...

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Bronze badge

"If power line networking is causing headaches for our spies then that's a serious issue"

Only serious if they are doing anything useful.........

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Megaphone

any spooks reading this....

..I challenge you to send me an email to my personal address with my middle name in the subject title....

You never know.

Mine is the one with the S350 that doesn't fit in the pocket but the batteries really do lat months...

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Alert

What an amazing co-incidence.

(1) "Mark Lancaster, MP for Milton Keynes North, has raised it as an adjournment debate (a 30-minute conversation) following a request from one of his (radio ham) constituents."

(2) MK North Constituency: Bradwell, Campbell Park, Hanslope Park, Linford North, Linford South, Middleton, Newport Pagnell North, Newport Pagnell South, Olney, Sherington, Stantonbury, Wolverton.

(3) Hanslope Park: Once the manorial estate of the village, it is now owned by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and home to HMGCC (Her Majesty's Government Communications Centre). This researches, designs, develops and produces communications systems, equipment and related hardware and software.

So to summarise.. he just happens to have Bletchley Park 2.0 in his constituency.

Bootnote?

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Anonymous Coward

Numbers Stations

*If* the spooks are having trouble listening on numbers stations because of PLT generated interference, then Shirley the intended recipients of the numbers are also having trouble. That being the case GCHQ should actually consider PLTs a good thing.

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Silver badge

yes, but

how do we know that communists in Northern Italy (say) have neighbours with PLT?

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Anonymous Coward

About time too

Look if you had a constant bass beat reverberating around your house whenever you were home and it was your neighbours then you'd do something - yes?

In this day and age these PLTs are EXACTLY that, except only the most techie of you will ever work that out.

The rest of you will just accept that "things happen" - well yes they do when the "regulator" is totally incompetent. The only other alternative to incompetent is "corrupt".

You choose which one it is.

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Silver badge

Yawn

Wake me when someone other than be beardie weirdie radio brigade give a damn. There are so many other sources of RF interference in the home that PLT barely registers to most. Deal with wireless router channel saturation, video senders and badly shielded microwaves then wake me up. Till then nobody cares.

Now to get that backup script looping over my PLT network 24/7 just in case one of the gammons is about.

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Thumb Down

Well no actually....

..there are quite few sources of severe wideband interference other than those created:

a) deliberately by people injecting high HF signal levels into mains wiring a.k.a PLT

b) deliberately by people who type approve their switch mode power supplies with RF filtering components fitted and then remove them in production to save money.

Oddly both of these problems affect people that use the radio spectrum in a domestic environments, some of them are just listening to medium wave or band II.

I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that 400W transmitted near your PLT devices is likely to make them fall over perfectly legally too.

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Flame

Nobody cares about your services...

> Deal with wireless router channel saturation, video senders and badly shielded microwaves

Those all operate in the ISM band, which is unlicensed and has no guaranteed level of service. If quality of service matters to you, get your AmEx card out and buy a license for some spectrum where you can reasonably expect QoS. Then you can complain. Like the beardie weirdies you are so dismissive of do.

Otherwise you're just a whinging freetard cheapskate who's getting exactly the level of service you're paying for. Anything above zero is a bonus.

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Anonymous Coward

and

(c) people who install variable speed drives for lathes and drilling machines without any rfi precautions at all.

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Anonymous Coward

hmmm

No problem. I'll take the earth connection off the ground spike, and connect it directly onto the outer of the electricity cable.

A few hundred watts of 80 metre ssb should solve the problem.....or maybe I'll just use packet on 80....hmmm...hard choice. I get no problems with microwave ovens....nor routers.....but BT internet systems cause me a certain amount of grief.....fortunately, powerline is not a protected system....they have to tolerate interference......that's the price of being free.....and low power...

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Thumb Up

Oh good.

If this means less of GCHQ listening in on perfectly innocent civvies - yes, they do - then I for one will go install some Powerline kit in my house.

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Welcome

21 H6 77 34 Wot?

I can't hear you GCHQ, warble warble my one-time pad is being computed.....44.753Mhz......looks like you've just given a serious clue to organised crime guys!

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Anonymous Coward

Beards?

I want to know what Bill Ray's callsign is.

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Silver badge

As the man said...

Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.

Claud Cockburn (1904 - 1981)

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Black Helicopters

Enforcement ?

Be really interested how they are going to enforce a ban if they have to....There have been literally millions sold...

That is the the one question nobody seem to be willing to answer

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Flame

You are emitting radio waves from your property...

...ergo, you are not hard to track! A hand-held scanner, CB radio, or shortwave radio is all that's needed to find PLT users!

They can be recalled via product recall notices placed in the media. New supplies can be confiscated by Trading Standards and sent to the incinerator!

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Bronze badge

The way it would work...

....is that the devices on sale would be removed from the shelves. Then in cases where interference came to light, the PLT devices causing the problem could then be removed from use and be destroyed.

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Black Helicopters

Re: You are emitting radio waves from your property.

Never said findind em' was a problem.....The so called compaints point to that

However with millions sold you'd need to set up a network of vans/people to find them all. I suspect this was part of OFCOMs benefit/cost analysis and conclusion.

This is especially so as they are CE Euro certified. You gonna ban them coming across the EU border..?

'Excuse me Sir are you smuggling cigs,alcohol,drugs or HomePlug Adaptors ?

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Anonymous Coward

Unfortunately

both OFCOM and the EU are institutionally corrupt.

No doubt someone in OFCOM will end-up on some company board or other....likewise the EU staff.....money always talks louder than morality

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Just a few questions

After they've been taken off shelves, who would be responsible for detecting the interference from millions of devices in circulation? Who would track down their location? Would there be any compensation for people who legitimately purchased a legal device? Who would destroy them? How much would the de-PLT UK Team cost and who would pay for it?

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Anonymous Coward

In The Not So Old Days....

Not so long ago I read a story (possibly on El Reg) about some kid who had some kit in his bedroom that was causing RF interference. Ofcom tracked down the source of the interference and sent somebody round to have words. No fines just a few words of advice on what to do to stop the interference. Oh and probably the threat of a hefty fine in future if they didn't stop.

These days it seems Ofcom (and/or the BBC) would rather stick their collective heads up their collective arses rather than take some sort of enforcing action.

However the issue with something like a PLT causing RF interference is not just that it's illegal to use such devices, but it's also illegal to sell them. So if they wanted to enforce it they could actually start by enforcing refunds or fining retailers who fail to offer them.

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Anonymous Coward

BT Vision can start by clearing up its own mess!

BT maintain a list of Vision customers who have received kits with PLT inside. They can write to their customers with a recall notice and provide a postage paid bag for the return of the PLT units. Alternatively, they can instruct their customers to dispose of the PLT units at their nearest WEEE skip. After all, the BT customer did not pay for them.

Ofcom can take out adverts in the national press informing people of their (Ofcom's) mistake and telling people to return their PLT units to the place of purchase. Manufacturers can be instructed to offer refunds as can the suppliers!

Once the above is done, I am sure those of us with mobile CB and mobile Amateur Radio would be happy to run "fox hunts" in our local areas, on our own time and at our own cost, to find the addresses still radiating and report them to Ofcom for remedial action. That is what we have been doing - except Ofcom are ignoring us and attempting to put as many barriers in our way as possible. They forget, as a public body, they work for us!

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Anonymous Coward

Only the dodgy ones

"Ofcom can take out adverts in the national press informing people of their (Ofcom's) mistake and telling people to return their PLT units to the place of purchase. "

Only the dodgy ones, mind. Not all PLTs cause such interference.

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FAIL

They are all dodgy!

All PLT which use the mains wiring as a conductor, regardless of "technology" (UPA/HPA), fail to pass EN55022 and therefore fails the Essential Requirements of the EU's EMC directive.

If you have a PLT device which can pass the full EN55022:2006 tests, please publish the results, as we would all like to see that!!

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Thumb Up

Yeah, sucks, but...

Solves my patchy wi-fi problems :)

Anon in anticipation of the downvotes.

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Alert

Who are you calling Bearded?

I resent being called bearded, or the owner of other types of facial hair. It is a slur and a vile calumny. At least 80% of my fellow radio amateurs are beard free, in fact several are hair free.

So there!

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Alert

Stereotype obsolescence alert

I am a radio amateur.

I object to PLT (& it's good to have GCHQ onside!).

My chin is quite, quite glabrous.

I rest my case.

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Big Brother

..duh

err, yes, PLT does cause noise. its been studied and known for quite some time.

number-stations moved to other media - internet sites and embedded into several music

sites . random accounts on youtube also contain number messages within their videos

and several accounts on Picassa have numbers in their EXIF data. its all there - you just have to know where to look

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Anonymous Coward

What Size...

...is your tinfoil hat?

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Silver badge

Not just number stations

Shortwave is the only part of the radio spectrum usable for broadcasting as you have ionospheric propagation. It's the only way to cover a larger area without setting up hundreds of transmitters.

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FAIL

DA-Notice...

It's a bit late to start playing the DA-Notice card (presumably invoking No.5?) when the document in question is already out on the internet, isn't it? Especially considering it's marked as unclassified in bold letters at the top along with the wording "This statement has been released by [name], [position]".

Perhaps if they wanted the identities of that guy and the guy whose name is at the bottom of it to remain secret, they shouldn't have included them in the document in the first place? Just sayin'

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Black Helicopters

At last...

... a reason to use powerline networking.

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Gold badge
Boffin

If GCHQ have trouble receiving these stations

Given (presumably) some *huge* aerials they have.

Why should they be worried about some illegal spook holed up in a bed sit with a marginal quality transistor radio (bought down the local market to avoid a customs search turning up any "special" equipment) 3/4 of the way through its batteries?

It's got to be doubtful said spook would hear *anything* through the mush.

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Silver badge
FAIL

When the storms hit The Gap (Brisbane) back in 2007...

...my only regret was not having a battery rigged up to run my HF transceiver.

I just had my 2m/70cm handheld (which was my *only* means of contact when I was out of the house, the mobile phones were out). With the power out to the entire neighbourhood, 2m sounded *heavenly*. No plasma TVs, no noisy insulators on the overhead lines, no PLT... propagation was unbelievable.

And of course this was before the Solar electricity craze... so no noisy cheap inverters either. (Some of them can also make a lot of noise.)

I'm not against things being power efficient, using their house wiring for Ethernet or enjoying high definition television, but sadly a lot of companies in their quest for lower manufacturing costs, start with an EMC-friendly design, then gradually take pieces out until it stops working, then put the last piece back in.

End result being a product that's vastly different to the one they sent in for testing... and the likes of the ACMA, Ofcom, FCC, etc are left to chase them up on it. That, or the manufacturer just doesn't care.

And of course the average public person has no idea that their device can be making this racket.

It's not just the spooks and radio amateurs that use HF... there's HF CB (27MHz), HF marine, here in Australia there's Outpost radio service (RFDS, VKS-737, etc)... some of the long-distance aircraft also use HF for communications. So you're not just interfering with that house down the road that resembles an echidna, but likely also air traffic control or coast guard.

Bear this in mind next time you're on a boat or plane. :-)

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Silver badge

Correction...

Can't get my dates straight... 2008... November 2008...

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FAIL

I'm impressed about the D-Notice

I suppose as **** are required to lie about everything , then we can start to guess their comments on PLT being a pain are true, what if the opponents of sigint/elint realise this and start buying thousands of Netgear XAV5001 500Mb/s powerline Ethernet adapters (before the firmware is modified to leak entropic data as opposed to mush) Possibly the main frequencies listened to by the BN2T CC Mk2(*) could be at risk? I think a D-notice on the use of PLT adapters in city centres would be useful.

(*)http://www.raf.mod.uk/equipment/islander.cfm

Does another of yesterdays' articles need a D-notice too? it mentions how key **** employees shockingly read the DailyTelegraph 'free'! <http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/news/Taxi-driver-given-permission-transport-GCHQ-staff-incognito/article-3561414-detail/article.html>

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Paris Hilton

Ham

I am a radio ham hihi and with all the M3s on HF I dont know whats worse hihi Youll mostly find me on 4 metres hihi 73s QSL 59+

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Megaphone

Be quiet Jim

Go back to your NG and talk about cambelts.

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jgb

Smog in Channel - World isolated

[quote]

buy a license for some spectrum where you can reasonably expect QoS. Then you can complain. ......Otherwise you're just a whinging freetard cheapskate who's getting exactly the level of service you're paying for. Anything above zero is a bonus.

[/quote]

Given the existing (and rising) level of RF smog, especially in urban areas everywhere, this Not My Problem attitude won't work! PLT USED to be standardised so that it couldn't create much smog, however many devices were used. Then the regulatory mechanisms fell apart and we're now in a mess.

If you transmit at broadband speeds in any unconstrained medium (radio itself, unshielded cables that act as antennas, ...) you WILL almost inevitably create possibly-unexpected crosstalk and interference. There MAY also be risks to health from the general RF Smog level and / or specific sources (mobile phones, WiFi, possibly PLT - see latest Sunday Telegraph front page!). Personally, I doubt there is much real risk (inverse-square law etc.) EXCEPT from high-power point sources such as mobiles close to sensitive areas such as your head - but clearly others do. Add on some unexpected sources (combi boilers - see Ban PLT website, very fast PC processor chips in VAST numbers, ...) to the Usual Suspects, and we're looking at a future where permanent, quite dense RF smog will be a GENERAL phenomenon.

Two choices: Get over it. Or fix it before it gets really bad.

Given our startlingly unsuccessful attempts to even agree that human impact on the environment (Global Warming, ...) is even A Problem, I'm not optimistic!

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Bronze badge
WTF?

PLT used to be standardised?

It did? When?

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Big Brother

wi-fi v PLT health issues

Someone I know (a conspiracy nut) switched from wi-fi to PLT because they believed that wireless carries with it long-term exposure health issues, whereas PLT apparently doesn't. Presumably if a PLT-user is inadvertantly turning their house into a massive VHF transmitter, that carries potential health issues too?

Don't mind me, I always wear a tinfoil hat regardless ;)

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Anonymous Coward

A Little Knowledge

The trouble with idiots like that is that they don't think about other sources of localized RF. Not just the likes of PLT and wireless doorbells and baby monitors. I've come across RF interference being caused by all sorts of things although my personal favourite is the dodgy PC PSU.

Had a friend once who got some interesting TV inteference and realised it was only happening when he used his PC. So he spent some considerable time running an ethernet cable from his router to his PC. Being a conscientious sort of bloke he did the job properly, it even involved some plastering. When he'd finished he chucked the wi-fi card in the bin. But when he switched on the PC it happened again. So he switched off wireless on the router. Still he got the interference. Of course it turned out to be the PSU in his PC.

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