Joe Haslam (hi Joe!) mailed about Aeronautics.RU, wondering if it’s a fake. I’m pretty sure not, and John Sutherland at The Guardian concurs, noting that it was big in the City of London:

You don’t factor news into your model, but intelligence. There is a surfeit of war news, but reliable intelligence is hard to come by. The canny (stock market) trader in these parlous days has a first port of call – GRU (Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravleniye), the espionage arm of the Russian military.

GRU is the most sophisticated agency of its kind in the world. And, since Glasnost, the most transparent. GRU has thousands of agents worldwide (especially in countries such as Iraq, where Russia has traditional trade links). Intelligence has always been a top priority for Ivan. The number of agents operated by the GRU during the Soviet era was six times the number of agents operated by the KGB.

Russia, superpower that it was, still has spy satellites, state-of-the-art interception technology and (unlike the CIA) men on the ground. The beauty of GRU is that it does not (like the CIA) report directly to the leadership but to the Russian ministry of defence. In its wisdom, it makes its analyses publicly available. These are digested as daily bulletins on

… and syndicated onto Aeronautics.RU as well. Sadly, since the Russians closed up their Baghdad embassy and got out of Iraq, just in time it seems, all the reports have dried up. Ah well.

The reporting was incredibly detailed, and modulo a big chip on their shoulder about US imperialism, pretty informative.

Joe also points to another Aeronautics.RU article, ‘how military communications are intercepted’. Venik, the author, notes that the US is using SINCGARS ‘frequency-hopping’ radios, which use a daily-broadcast shared secret as an initial vector for the algorithm which determines what frequencies to ‘hop’ through, throughout the day.

However, security afforded by frequency-hopping methods is very dependant on the strict adherence to protocols for operating such radios. The US troops and other operators of frequency-hopping radio sets frequently disregard these protocols. An example would be an artillery unit passing digital traffic in the frequency-hopping mode, which would enable an unauthorized listener to determine the frequency-hopping algorithm and eavesdrop on the transmission. (jm: sounds like a known-plaintext attack; similar attacks were used by the Allies on German use of Enigma during WWII.)

Even when proper protocols for using frequency-hopping radios are being adhered to interception and decryption of these signals is still possible. The frequency-hopping interceptors are special advanced reconnaissance wideband receivers capable of simultaneously tracking a large number of frequency-hopping encrypted transmissions even in high background noise environments.

It then details some seriously specialized equipment for breaking frequency-hopping radio transmissions, which can ‘process the complete 30 to 80 MHz ground-to-ground VHF band within a 2.5 ms time slot’.

So judging by all of that, the chances of finding one of those ‘FH-1 frequency-hopping interceptors’, ‘manufactured by VIDEOTON-MECHLABOR Manufacturing and Development Ltd of Hungary’, sitting in the Russian embassy in Iraq about 2 weeks ago, would have been pretty high I’d bet. ;)

He doesn’t detail why encryption the system uses, or how that is supposedly being broken. But I don’t doubt it was, personally. Given the ‘artillery unit’ hole noted above, there were probably quite a few ways to get hold of the day’s key, given enough time and thought; and from what I’ve read, it can only be very tricky to use good crypto, and keep it secure, in a battlefield environment. And those Russians have had plenty of time to think about US military systems after all. ;)

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