Run Your Own Numbers Station

Numbers stations are shortwave stations that broadcast cryptic messages that are widely assumed to be used for communications between nation states and spies. But who’s to say it’s up to the government to have all the fun? If you’ve always dreamed of running your own spy ring, you’ll need a way to talk to them too. Start with this guide on how to run your own numbers station.

The requirements are simple – you just need random numbers, one time pads for each recipient (available from our store!) and a way to send the audio – ideally a powerful shortwave transmitter, but for an intelligence agency on a budget, online streaming will work. Then you’re ready to send your message. [Jake Zielke] shares techniques on how to easily encode a message into numbers for transmission, and how to encrypt them with one time pad techniques. Done properly, this is an unbreakable form of encryption. [Jake] then rounds out the guide with tips on how to format your station’s transmissions to address multiple secret agents effectively.

It’s a great way to get started in the world of spooky secret radio communications. All the tools needed to get started are available on the page, so you’ll be up and running in no time. Meanwhile, why not do a little more research on the history of numbers stations?

22 thoughts on “Run Your Own Numbers Station

  1. I had always heard/read that numbers stations were page and word count from a pre arranged book and they sure sound like it as well.

    Where does the “random number” thing come from???

    Having “code books” to be found is a dead give away, but a copy of “Johnathan Livingston Seagull”, “Watership Down” or some other innocuous book is “just a book” until you do something nefarious with it.

    the method the guy presents in the blog is way too repetitious, a space is always 99, a is 1, etc.

    Blechley Park anyone?????

    the other thing to think of here is if you are transmitting, you should be a licensed ham operator and if you’re a ham operator you can’t use encryption….

    1. The books idea was a good about 100 years ago. But with every common book in digital format these days, I think that technique is totally useless now. My guess would be that the random numbers used to encrypt messages by numbers stations were originally generated by some form of hotbits ( https://www.fourmilab.ch/hotbits/how3.html ). And the encryption is a basic XOR cipher ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XOR_cipher ) using ASCII tables ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASCII#Printable_characters – most of could be committed to memory e.g. space is 32 dec, number zero is 48 dec, capital A is 65 dec, lower case a is 97 ). With access of the the one time pad, the decryption could be done with pencil and paper.

    2. When I got my license, I thought it was weird that hams aren’t allowed to use encryption.

      When covering for the lab manager at my university, I spent a lot of time listening to the university’s repeater. Mostly old guys talking about FEMA death camps and Obama’s guillotines. On at least one occasion, they’d agree on a key code before switching to what sounded like Morse code except apparently ciphered with the key they discussed.

      Sure, encryption isn’t allowed but that assumes someone listening in can identify it as encryption. If your encoding scheme looks/sounds like vulnerable but uninteresting data, short messages could be sent without any problem. I’m picturing a system where Markov Chain-style conversations are held between two different Wavenet-based voice synthesizers on one transmitter, following all the mandated procedure and etiquette down to the callsigns. Shift the transmitter’s frequency just very slightly up or down with certain keywords, such as the 100 most used words in English.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Most_common_words_in_English

      With 100 words that get shifted slightly up or down in frequency when “spoken”, you have 200 variants that the intended listener could catch. Supply them with some dictionary mapping those 200 values to meanings (ASCII characters, perhaps, or entire words.) and you’re all set. If you want to send dense numbers, encode them as phone numbers or street addresses and work them into conversation accordingly.

      1. Correct me if I am wrong but HAM’s can use “encryption”/ data emission using “unspecified digital code”, assuming one keeps records and has a public key to the emissions

        FCC 97.305/307 RTTY or data emission using unspecified digital code. When deemed by the District Director a station must 1) Cease Transmission using the code, 2) Restrict to the extent instructed, 3) Maintain a record convertible to the original information.

        Strictly speaking this is more about compression and digital transmission efficiency but nothing in this says you can’t use it. Just that it can’t be for the sole purpose of hiding the content. If I publish the key and maintain a record and the purpose was for “compression” or efficiency then the “encoding” is incidental.

        The FCC doesn’t take kindly to abuse of HAM privilege and so if said tinfoil hatters decide to abuse the privilege or someone follow your suggestion, it could be bad for them. Loss of gear, money and lots of other unfun things.

        This is the list of fine’s and actions the FCC has taken recently.

        https://transition.fcc.gov/eb/AmateurActions/Welcome.html

        $25,000 for transmitting interference and music
        $3,500 not using call sign
        $13,600 using an unlicensed transmitter
        $4,000 (reduced from $15,000) , the offence appears to be adding a larger antenna or amp that took the device outside of part 15 spec.
        $10,000 part 15 spec equipment operating outside of permissible levels.
        $10,000 (reduced from $20,000) for operating on an unallowed frequency
        $21,000 failure to control station, finance gain, impermissible broadcasts

        in 2008 there was an enforcement on a vendor that had a product that transmitted on “unapproved” frequencies. $5000 fine for a device that COULD operate at 2.468ghz.

        All things considered I think there are better ways then to try to use a radio to broadcast random numbers.

  2. You should of course observe the relevant local laws if you decide to do this. In some countries the transmission of encrypted information on amateur bands is unlawful and could result in the operator being prosecuted. Furthermore the use of amateur frequencies by unlicensed operators is against the law.

    1. Use of ANY frequencies for which you are not licensed is unlawful. Amateur, air band, shortwave broadcast … doesn’t matter.
      Even fairly permissive allocations like the Citizen’s Band Radio Service would not permit this. The ACMA for example, while a toothless tiger much of the time, does occasionally find where it keeps its false teeth to give someone a severe mauling when they step out of line.

  3. You can find these lists of numbers on most social media platforms as well. What most people do not realize is that the overwhelming amount of the traffic sent by shortwave number stations, and their internet analogs amount to strings of nulls to idle the channels. Apparently as well some of these stations are sending commercial traffic with such cloak-and-dagger information as the price of fish landed at certain ports.

  4. After years of listen in to these wonders it never occurred to me to join the fun. If I can carve out some time I am going to take a stab at incorporating something like this in the PiFold/Anyfesto project (https://hackaday.io/project/9498-pifold) . Maybe have a website you can enter msgs in and a cron job to inject the coded numbers call out into the audio stream at the top of the hour. More coffee. Any thoughts and suggestions welcome.

  5. After years of listen in to these wonders it never occurred to me to join the fun. If I can carve out some time I am going to take a stab at incorporating something like this in the PiFold/Anyfesto project (https://hackaday.io/project/9498-pifold) . Maybe have a website you can enter msgs in and a cron job to inject the coded numbers call out into the audio stream at the top of the hour. More coffee. Any thoughts and suggestions welcome.

    1. I have a little program I have had for many years. I have a copy on every drive. it is called One time pad.It came off of the internet. It creates two copies of a one time pad.One on you computer( i usually run it on the drive that it resides in) The second copy can be put on a flash drive to be placed under the third seat on the left, of the inbound number five bus. If you can not find it let me know and it is small enough that it will go as an email attachment.

    1. I have no idea how many pads the store sells, but I feel like they’re pretty fun things even if they’re not super secure/trustable. I doubt anyone’s turning a huge profit on $3.00 pads of pseudorandom numbers.

  6. it used to be common to know,
    all wireless teleco trunks(mainlines) have noise-muting,
    so if you hear snow on your telephone,
    its someone using the dial-up.

    imagine using the radio emissions of our very-own sun as a key to encrypt…
    just need to bounce em off of a planet in the same general direction as the sun (at the time)

    X Marks The Spot

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