back to article Hackers can cook you alive using 'microwave oven' sat-comms – claim

Four years ago, IOActive security researcher Ruben Santamarta came to Black Hat USA to warn about insecurities in aircraft satellite-communication (SATCOM) systems. Now he’s back with more doom and gloom. During a presentation at this year's hacking conference in Las Vegas this week, he claimed he has found a host of flaws in …

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I truly hope so

"It would not be possible for him to hijack the aircraft's core control systems, though, as these are kept strictly separate and locked down. "

Should we therefore "presume" that none of the control systems use SATCOM, not even as a redundant backup for reason a, b or c.....

Scary stuff

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Re: I truly hope so

'Should we therefore "presume" that none of the control systems use SATCOM, not even as a redundant backup for reason a, b or c.....'

There's really no reason for them to, the control systems don't need to communicate off the aircraft. never mind receive information from the outside world.

There is potential to send false information to the meat sacks charged with programming the autopilot but that's people for you.

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Re: [no need to] communicate off the aircraft

"There's really no reason for them to, the control systems don't need to communicate off the aircraft. never mind receive information from the outside world."

Really?

What's all this about then:

"[The company] assumes all responsibilities for analyzing engine data in real time* to manage customers’ engine maintenance and maximize aircraft availability.

To meet the technology requirements of this initiative, [company] implemented Microsoft’s Azure IoT Suite to collect and aggregate data from disparate and geographically distributed sources. As documented by Microsoft, the types of data processed include:

* Snapshots of engine performance that the planes send wirelessly during a flight.

* Downloads of “black box”–type data, technical logs, and flight plans.

[etc]."

* What's the definition of real-time? Twice a flight (takeoff and landing?) Twice an hour? Twice a minute? As needed? Who knows.

Either way, you might think it's implausibe, unwise, or both. I couldn't possibly comment.

Quote taken from a 2016 article at

https://www.rtinsights.com/rolls-royce-jet-engine-maintenance-iot/

but plenty of similar claims around.

See also ACARS and related.

This kind of engine control/maintenance thing used to be communicated on a "where suitable comms coverage is readily available" basis, typically significant airports or similar. Better/cheaper satellite coverage is making it more practical to do it in near-real-time in many parts of the world, not just near airports. And "real-time" and "cloud" and similar sounds good, surely?

Whether calling a safety critical airline engine control system an IoT device and associating it with Azure is a sensible thing to do is a different question altogether. Shall we take a vote on it (like sensor inputs on the aircraft's systems are supposed to do when it's a critical signal...).

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Re: I truly hope so

"

Should we therefore "presume" that none of the control systems use SATCOM, not even as a redundant backup for reason a, b or c.....

"

Yes, you may safely make that assumption. Satellite comms are not used for flight control, only for communications. You could possibly feed erroneous position information to ground operations (though that does not include ATC), but not to the flight crew or flight systems.

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Re: [no need to] communicate off the aircraft

"

"[The company] assumes all responsibilities for analyzing engine data in real time* to manage customers’ engine maintenance and maximize aircraft availability.

"

That's strictly one-way. Data is sent and possibly analysed in real time, but nothing is sent back to the aircraft to change the engine's settings. If the live data indicates a bogus problem then the most that would happen is an unnecessary delay at the next stop for an engineering inspection (which would quickly find that the live data was not the same as the data recorded on-board).

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Re: I truly hope so

"Yes, you may safely make that assumption. Satellite comms are not used for flight control, only for communications. You could possibly feed erroneous position information to ground operations (though that does not include ATC), but not to the flight crew or flight systems."

So you're trying to tell us that aircraft do not have autopilots that navigate by GPS position?

Or are you not counting GPS as satellite communications?

I think there are also orders sent to aircraft over the middle of the major oceans where VHS is unreliable.

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Re: I truly hope so

I am one of those who thinks the researchers claims include some exaggerated speculation, particularly on using radar units as microwave ovens. Also he leaves out TCAS. How could he leave out TCAS?

There is TCAS (traffic collision avoidance system) and I truly hope TCAS is secure because pilots are trained to obey any Resolution Alerts (RAs) TCAS issues immediately and almost without exception, including over-ruling ATC instructions.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_collision_avoidance_system#Pilot/aircrew_interaction_during_a_TCAS_event

TCAS was not originally satellite based, but it seems many units use GPS information provided by the aircraft, and that GPS information is of course satellite based.

www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Advisory_Circular/TCAS%20II%20V7.1%20Intro%20booklet.pdf page 21

"With passive surveillance, position data provided by an onboard navigation source is broadcast from the intruder's Mode S transponder. The position data is typically based on GPS and received on own ship by the use of Mode S extended squitter, i.e. 1090 MHz ADS-B, also known as 1090ES. Standards for Hybrid Surveillance have been published in RTCA DO-300."

As I say, TCAS can issue Resolution Alerts (RAs) which are orders to pilots overrule even instructions from the ATC. Pilots are trained to do what TCAS says without question.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_collision_avoidance_system

"TCAS involves communication between all aircraft equipped with an appropriate transponder (provided the transponder is enabled and set up properly). Each TCAS-equipped aircraft interrogates all other aircraft in a determined range about their position (via the 1.03 GHz radio frequency), and all other aircraft reply to other interrogations (via 1.09 GHz). This interrogation-and-response cycle may occur several times per second.[1][2]

"The TCAS system builds a three dimensional map of aircraft in the airspace, incorporating their range (garnered from the interrogation and response round trip time), altitude (as reported by the interrogated aircraft), and bearing (by the directional antenna from the response). Then, by extrapolating current range and altitude difference to anticipated future values, it determines if a potential collision threat exists.

"TCAS and its variants are only able to interact with aircraft that have a correctly operating mode C or mode S transponder. A unique 24-bit identifier is assigned to each aircraft that has a mode S transponder.

"The next step beyond identifying potential collisions is automatically negotiating a mutual avoidance manoeuver (currently, manoeuvers are restricted to changes in altitude and modification of climb/sink rates) between the two (or more) conflicting aircraft. These avoidance manoeuvers are communicated to the flight crew by a cockpit display and by synthesized voice instructions.[1][2]

"A protected volume of airspace surrounds each TCAS equipped aircraft. The size of the protected volume depends on the altitude, speed, and heading of the aircraft involved in the encounter. The illustration below gives an example of a typical TCAS protection volume.

"System components

A TCAS installation consists of the following components:[1][2]

"TCAS computer unit

Performs airspace surveillance, intruder tracking, its own aircraft altitude tracking, threat detection, resolution advisory (RA) manoeuvre determination and selection, and generation of advisories. The TCAS Processor uses pressure altitude, radar altitude, and discrete aircraft status inputs from its own aircraft to control the collision avoidance logic parameters that determine the protection volume around the TCAS aircraft.

"Antennas

The antennas used by TCAS II include a directional antenna that is mounted on the top of the aircraft and either an omnidirectional or a directional antenna mounted on the bottom of the aircraft. Most installations use the optional directional antenna on the bottom of the aircraft. In addition to the two TCAS antennas, two antennas are also required for the Mode S transponder. One antenna is mounted on the top of the aircraft while the other is mounted on the bottom. These antennas enable the Mode S transponder to receive interrogations at 1030 MHz and reply to the received interrogations at 1090 MHz.

'Cockpit presentation

The TCAS interface with the pilots is provided by two displays: the traffic display and the RA display. These two displays can be implemented in a number of ways, including displays that incorporate both displays into a single, physical unit. Regardless of the implementation, the information displayed is identical. The standards for both the traffic display and the RA display are defined in DO-185A.[4]

...

"TCAS works in a coordinated manner, so when an RA is issued to conflicting aircraft, a required action (i.e., Climb. Climb.) has to be immediately performed by one of the aircraft, while the other one receives a similar RA in the opposite direction (i.e., Descend. Descend.).

...

"When an RA is issued, pilots are expected to respond immediately to the RA unless doing so would jeopardize the safe operation of the flight. This means that aircraft will at times have to manoeuver contrary to ATC instructions or disregard ATC instructions. In these cases, the controller is no longer responsible for separation of the aircraft involved in the RA until the conflict is terminated.

"

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Re: I truly hope so

"

Or are you not counting GPS as satellite communications?

"

Not within the parameters of the risks postulated by this article, no.

GPS is completely self contained. It does not have a control unit (the aerial is fixed), and is not connected to the Internet, so I really fail to see how it could be "hacked".

Oh - and the GPS is still only an auxiliary system for navigating a commercial airliner. The main navigation is done via inertial nav and/or ground stations (ADF, VOR, DME, ILS etc). Pilots are told not to rely on GPS position. In addition ground stations would soon pick up on an aircraft straying significantly off-track.

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Re: I truly hope so

Betamax was way better.

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Alert

Still smells of researcher hype

Lots of vague assertions in there of terrible problems that might be possible. Usual security researcher hype really.

I'd pay more attention if he hadn't got some key words wrong.

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Re: Still smells of researcher hype

Yes, unless they have demonstrated a proof of concept attack that can take place in the real world, this is all just mental masturbation. Do we even know for sure these guys have ever worked with SATCOM hardware, or are they just reading manuals they downloaded off the web and thinking "wow, the default settings aren't safe, I'm going to assume everyone is vulnerable and any safety protections can be magically overridden".

Not saying they're wrong, just that they don't seem to provide any support for their claims.

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Geeks!

All they think about is hacking a satellite? What's the point, and where's the fun?

If I were a blackhat, I'd have the Highways Agency digital message signs on my hit list along with things like TfL bus stop and tube station message boards, and the ad display at Piccadilly Circus.

HA message board: "Caravanners go home, everybody hates you"

TfL tube: "It's nice and cool in our air conditioned control room"

Bus stop: "Only peasants use buses. Do you have an excuse?"

Scrolling message at Waterloo: "The 18:14 to Farnham is delayed by 25 minutes. During that time the CEO of South West trains will have earned another 250 quid"

For Piccadilly Circus I suppose the thing to do is loop some adult entertainment.

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Coat

Black Hats ...

Would you watch a horror flick if it didn't try to scare you ...

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Re: Geeks!

Outstanding proposed hack; I think I would opt for "Bad traffic. Dumbass with mobile got creamed"

Part of my commute went through a small town known for its aggressive traffic law enforcement. Some guy would put up large hand-painted warning signs such as "COP WITH RADAR 1/2 MILE". And he left a tip jar. A good man.

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RF OOps

“It’s pretty much the same principle as a microwave oven,” he told The Register. “The flaws allow us to ramp up the frequency.”

Shirly "ramp up the power" ? You might find a software command to alter the frequency, but it may not do much due to real world physics.

A microwave oven uses a cavity magnetron, so called because of resonant cavities, which give effectively a fixed frequency.

At microwave freqs the dimensions of the waveguide usually optimsed fot the band restrict the frequency range that can be passed without significant loss.

It`s about an octave up to I think C band and reducing in higher bands Wideband microwave power amplifiers struggle to achieve the w/guide liimits at full power

No chance of ramping up!

For satcomms, usually Tx (/+Rx ) antennae are not huge and are pretty directional but not tremendously high powered due to the modulation techniques and using them as a steered death ray is going to take quite a long exposure. There are telltales such as signal loss, safety mandated non networked connections for transmit status ,dish positioner etc that will show.

Years ago having a return signal drop on a Tv Sat flyaway ( which is hundreds of watts @ Ku) looked out of the tent and had to chase a bystander out of the beam having walked through the safety fence labelled "keep out radiation hazard". plus the yellow picture signs.

Having explained that it was "Like walking into a microwave" ( no it`s not) just to impress the hazard........

"so if I put a sausage in there it would cook?"

"no but it would possibly go blind and not be able to father children".

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Re: RF OOps

Probably a bigger risk to point the antenna at electronics (assuming that's even possible) that operate the plane/ship/etc. rather than trying to kill someone with <scarequote>radiation</scarequote>, which is definitely impossible unless someone was somehow sitting outside the metal skin of the airplane. Then you kill everyone (airplane) or inconvenience everyone (cruise ship)

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Pint

Re: RF OOps

Your 4th paragraph is ... err ... flawed ... ever looked through a piece of waveguide ... high pass filter

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Re: RF OOps

"For satcomms, usually Tx (/+Rx ) antennae are not huge and are pretty directional but not tremendously high powered due to the modulation techniques and using them as a steered death ray is going to take quite a long exposure."

That's the understatement of the century (and it'd take about a century of standing directly in front of one to achieve any significant damage - including cataracts.)

You'd get damage if you put your eye over the end of the waveguide, but the point is that even with a 10W transmitter - unusually strong for satcom - the spread over the dish surface is already well below any hazardous level and even standing directly in front is quite safe - until someone nearby decides to take matters into their own hands because you blocked their signal.

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Risk to people?

The location of steerable antennas on aircraft and the vast majority of ships (whether steered mechanically or electronically) means that the aerial cannot physically (or electronically) be lowered to a declination where it could irradiate people. There is never any need for a satellite aerial to point below the horizon so they are not designed to be able to point below the horizontal. Aircraft satellite aerials are situated on the top of the aircraft (for obvious reasons), so cannot ever point at anyone inside the fuselage. Almost all ship aerial systems are mounted a fair bit above the height of the top deck, so again cannot be aimed at anyone on board. Outside of the main beam angle the EIRP is too low to be any safety concern.

Satellite comms that use non-steerable antennas emit barely more energy than a mobile phone at max power, so are no concern.

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Re: Risk to people?

Also Satcomms less than 20W. Microwave oven 800W.

Inverse square law on distance and power.

You'd eventually give someone cataracts pointing decent Radar at them. SatComs is typically 100th of the average power of radar.

Even Radar can't cook people. Even though a microwave oven basically uses a magnetron that's similar to some historic Radar systems. You'd have to hug the radar dish.

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Re: Risk to people?

'Even Radar can't cook people. Even though a microwave oven basically uses a magnetron that's similar to some historic Radar systems. You'd have to hug the radar dish.'

As a moderately fresh faced young officer I was asking about the safety line painted just outside the arc of the nav radar on the bridge roof.

'Is that so you don't get irradiated?' says I

'Yes sir, but mainly it's to stop you getting concussed as it's spinning around.'

On the flip side, the Type 909 fire control radar on a Type 42 could seriously f*** you up, something to do with being able to track a fighter sized contact at a classified distance. Which was several times the classified distance the associated missile could fly for some reason.

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Re: Risk to people?

Which was several times the classified distance the associated missile could fly for some reason.

Makes perfect sense to me. That gives command time to be made aware of the fighter sized contact, determine its FoF status, and make the decision whether or not to fire upon it before it reaches missile range.

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Re: Risk to people?

Shipboard systems are fun... You've got high power systems, lots of bang lying around in various launchers, atrocious environmental conditions, and some very young people running it all. Training is key.

I've only ever seen two significant RF injuries due to near field illumination - one I alluded to in my post was a sailor with a large piercing down under who elected to stand directly in front of a large UHF air search radar. Bad plan, poorly executed. "Jack's nut roasting over an open fire..."

At a shore installation we had another guy stand in front of the same type of radar while operational. Picture a very large building with an oversize cruiser mast stuck through the roof. Sailor was on the same level as the radar and decided to take a leak onto the roof below. Bad plan, poorly executed. We called him "hot rod" after that.

Sea story - don't know if its true or not. Radioman smoking on bridge wing of a destroyer loses his ball cap; it blows off and lands on a small deck just behind an aft AN/SPY-1 array. Does the gymnastics to get it. Doesn't think there is a radhaz because 'radars spin' and all the 'spinning antennas are on the mast'. Ends up losing a some of his vision as the proteins in the vitreous humor of his eyes partially cooked. Behavior consistent with the guys I know, but had that happened in RL I think we would have had an hour or two of mandatory "ball cap retrieval training" every year

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Re: Risk to people?

"You'd eventually give someone cataracts pointing decent Radar at them"

Given the power of a radar transmitter _THAT_ doesn't take long. (50kW pulses or thereabouts, 3000W average. 150W for more modern units)

One of my friends was a ground operations guy at a small airport (the guy with the paddles who waves the aircraft into parking positions) whilst working up the hours to get his commercial pilot license.

One day around 25 years ago the crew of a deHavilland Dash-8 forgot to turn off the weather radar before landing at Milson and left it running all the way up to the stand - where in less than 5 minutes they fried my friend before he or the crew realised what had happened.

He was in hospital for months and has never been able to pilot an aircraft since thanks to the damage done to his eyes.

It's not just high power microwaves which are dangerous either:

At another site (HF transmitting station ZLB) one of my cow-orkers got careless whilst tuning a SW comms transmitter and had the (dis)pleasure of having ~5kW 13MHz RF enter via his hand, run down his arm, body, leg and exit via his knee (which was touching the transmitter casing). It left a line of cooked flesh about an inch deep and two inches wide along the entire RF burn - There's a reason behind the warning to tune high powered stuff with the other hand firmly in your pocket (not leaning casually on the cabinet next to the antenna terminals of 1950s-era STC DS12 TXes with a reputation for being bitey at the best of times)

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Re: Risk to people?

'Makes perfect sense to me. That gives command time to be made aware of the fighter sized contact, determine its FoF status, and make the decision whether or not to fire upon it before it reaches missile range.'

If it was the only Radar yes, but 909 was purely to guide the missile to the target, there was a 1022 Air Search Radar for the whole target acquisition and identification phase that could see things several times further away than the 909 could.

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Re: Risk to people?

"

Ummm lots of satellite Ariel (ariels, whatever) point towards earth ?

"

Only the ones on satellites, which are too far away to present any safety concern wherever the aerial is pointed. Oh - and satellite systems are not usually connected to the Internet, and the control channel has very strong security.

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I actually build microwave radios and wish it was so simple to cook things with it. It would make the work a lot more fun.

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It burns, it burns (or not)

Hmm. Let's look at the Astra 1N satellite for example. It has an EIRP of 54dbW. My goodness, that's a quarter of a megawatt. Sounds dangerous. Except that the I in EIRP stands for isotropic, meaning that, if the satellite were transmitting in all directions, that's what it would have to put out in order to achieve the signal strength it attains in Its service area, a large swathe of Europe. Of course, it does not radiate in all directions; it beams a signal only at its service area. That means it's putting out just a couple of hundred Watts — about a quarter of a microwave oven. Of course, it has multiple beams, but even so, the total power available for everything on the satellite is 13kW. And it's more than 30,000 km away. I don't think we're in danger.

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Hate to tell you

but the microwave antennae in an aircraft cannot be aimed into the cabin areas, it would be a liability.

I have seen one as well.

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Cooked ALIVE? Seriously?

Gotta throw the BS flag on this one.

Let's do some simple analysis. Per international safety guidance (*) the controlled area (**) maximum permissible exposure level (PEL) for RF from 3GHz on up is 10mW/cm^2, averaged over six minutes. Note there is a factor of ten safety margin between the controlled area PEL and .any. observable effect. In this frequency range you're talking heating inside the eyeballs, and "effect" means a measurement signal just about noise in a dielectric simulation of a human. Your dangly bits will not tingle (***).

Typical SATCOM uplink frequency ranges are: 5.925 - 6.425GHz; 7.900 - 8.395GHz; 14.000 - 14.800GHz; 17.300 - 17.800GHz; 27.5-31GHz.

Typical SATCOM transmit powers? Hundreds of Watts. Extreme levels? 3.6kW at C band, 2.5kW at Ku band, hundreds of Watts in the mmW bands. See (****)

Antenna size? It matters. Commercial kit can go anywhere from man portable to a 9m monster. Let's assume a 4.8m compact cassegrain - typical of "large" SATCOM installations. This is not kit that you will just have lying around. Typical gain at Ku band is +54.6dBi. Note beamwidth at this gain is about 0.4deg (-3dB), so your attacker needs amazing aim.

What's the effective radiated power? 2.5kW * +54.6dBi = 721MW. Sounds scary. But let's see... power density at range in the main beam is Pt/(4*pi*r^2). At one meter(*****) the density is about 5,740,000 mW/cm^2. At 240m I'm down to 100mW/cm^2 and definitely safe. At 740m I'm down to the controlled area PEL, and legal as well as very safe.

What's the spot size at 240m? Length of arc S = r*theta; For 0.4deg the spot is ~5m across at 740m; at 240m downrange its 1.7m across. Enemy needs damn good aim.

Reality is no member of the general public will be within a inside 200m from the most powerful uplink sites - its called a 'controlled area' PEL for a reason. Most of the giant antennas are moved into position and then mechanically locked down; at these spot sizes you need rigidity. Smaller stuff that's actively pointed whilst going after orbiting vehicles moving around is ... smaller; ERP is lower and I care even less. For most large antennas I've seen I'm not even sure I can physically point them within 10deg or so of the ground; there's no point having the mount articulate that much.

Reality is the only real threat at these sites is to maintenance personnel exposed to open waveguides, feedhorns, leaking waveguide flanges. Slightly burned the meat INSIDE my hand one time on a leaking UHF waveguide flange ... Probably kW/cm^2 ... THAT hit about ten on my 'life sucks' meter. Eleven when the itching set in. But that's not an IT problem.

Life's hard enough without inventing problems.

(*) IEEE standard C95.11.

(**) Uncontrolled area PEL (general public) is a lot lower but I cannot be arsed to look it up at the moment. Gave you the reference. I've memorized only controlled area PEL and the real hazard levels. I don't have general public at my sites because ... its a controlled area.

(***) Except one dumbass sailor I had on a mast directly in front of a very large UHF air search radar - having failed to lockout/tagout same. Turns out he had piercing that had "boldly gone where no man had gone before". Holiday song time! "Jack's nuts roasting over an open fire...."

(****) https://www.cpii.com/product.cfm/4/13.

(*****) Yeah, I know this analysis is sketchy in the near field. Fraunhofer distance for 4.8m reflector at 15GHz is something like 2.3km. But this is a blog post, k?

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Pint

Re: Cooked ALIVE? Seriously?

(*****)

But I always keep a scan of R.C. Hansen's Axial Power Density in the Near-Field Normalized to 2D^2/lambda handy for such occasions ...

sometimes wish I could post images ...

peaks at 0.1 or 230m at a ADP factor of 40 over APD of 1 at 1 (2.3km) per your example

This and gain (dBi) versus beamwidth were used to try to keep the snake-oil salesmen at bay ...

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Re: Cooked ALIVE? Seriously?

Hansen ... one of the senior scientists I worked with in the past insists that most of the "really good, scientifically sound engineering work was done from 1940 ... 1980. Everything since has been M&S induced psychosis" I always thought that was a way of telling me "get off my lawn", but Hansen's work is probably a good piece of evidence for his view. Elegant and effective, what more does a guy need?

Check out pages 26 and 27 of the following paper:

http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a190569.pdf

A little cut-n-paste and gimp action and you've got your scanned Hansen curves back!

-CB

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Pint

Simpler times ... none of this fol-de-rol ...

Straight answers to straight questions ....

Checked out the 1964 the microwave engineers' handbook and buyers guide, Hansen has another chart - Power Density at 2D^2/lambda w/equation. Off the cuff, looks like Pavg of 300W, per the example, to satisfy near field exposure requirements ...

old guys left all the books, younger guys just left ...

Per the pdf,

"The computer used to produce the data used for this report was a government owned Z-248 (AT compatible) equipped with a numerical math coprocessor (80287 chip)."

The Air Force always was more enamored with decimal points, says the Navy ...

snatched 2 out of 4 Z-248's at Ship Stores ...

All those lost souls [suckers] waiting for the Unisys contract to deliver .... https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235040074_The_Zenith_Z-248_as_a_Scientific_Workstation

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“The flaws allow us to ramp up the frequency.”

Uhm.... no.

There is nothing special about the frequency, it's just in a convenient range and has been allocated to microwave ovens. What you could "ramp up" is the power. However there are hardware limits. Satellite uplink transmitters typically have something in the order of 50 Watts. Granted there is a high gain antenna sending it directly to the satellite, but then again, your 700 Watts microwave oven makes sure most of those 700 Watts of output power actually reach your food. An open microwave oven is still moderately safe if you stand a few metres away from it.

Just because you can take over control of a radio device by no means means that you can do anything that dangerous. I mean I could probably take over my WLAN chip, but I'll never get it to output any serious power.

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This is exactly how they make crop circles.

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Alien

In the good old days, you’d see a lot of these after 11.20pm making circles near British pubs.... —>

Oddly since they sorted opening hours and now everyone has a camera on their phone you see a lot fewer crop circles.....

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