FlightAware Discussions

War, Should I Turn it off?

I have a flightfeeder and a war started in the country im running it in… they just blew up some drones right above me… should i turn off my feeder?

that would be up to you and how much you feel your regulators would like you tracking things, if it were me I would disconnect it.

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on a totally unrelated topic, can you advise the cut of meat shown in your profile picture?

Please don’t do anything that would put you or others in physical or legal jeopardy. If you’re not comfortable hosting the FlightFeeder we will arrange for it’s return at our cost. Please contact adsbsupport@flightaware.com for more information.

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its usually made with beef umm silverside i think

would they target users like myself? i just noticed the other one is in the fighting area, then im the next closest

Depends on the country, depends on the kind of war. I follow the news, so I’m guessing Nagorno-Karabakh. If that is indeed the case, you are facing semi-irregular troops that cannot be trusted to follow any rules, but can also not be expected to be particularly tech-savvy or curious about these things. I’d say balance your goals, follow your gut feeling, and do make sure you stay alive and well.

There’s a privacy setting in the FA control panel (Site Configuration-> Precision on Coverage Map) where you can set your public position to exact or to within 1 or within 10 km of your real position. As a very basic precaution you could set it to 10 and disable MLAT (also in /boot/piaware-config.txt). This would put you somewhere in a 100 km² area, almost impossible to search physically.

The way they could still find you easily is by your internet connection. They probably have central control, they can just check who makes regular contact with FA’s tracking server or who queries DNS for it. That’s also easily mitigated: direct your internet traffic through a proxy in Western Europe and use some open DNS that’s outside your country. Assuming that your tracker is running on a Raspberry of its own, it would be even easier and much better to funnel all its traffic through tor.

Yet another fairly easy and very useful security measure is to conceal your antenna. Nervous troops perceive weird-looking antennas as very suspicious. If it’s on your roof, take it down and put it inside a bush. Or even better, make it look like an ordinary TV-antenna and leave it visible, hiding in plain sight.

As a last resort before shutting down completely, you could consider gathering the data but keeping it to yourself. This would involve installing a database feeder and disabling your feed to FA, e.g. by blocking outgoing traffic to port 1200. There must be a setting somewhere to just disable faup1090, but I can’t find it in a hurry. If push comes to shove, just run “chmod -x /usr/lib/piaware/helpers/faup1090” for a very unelegant way to stop it.

The reason why I’m suggesting that you keep gathering the data even if you don’t feed it to FA, is that it could help investigate the war after the war is finished. Imagine for example if investigative journalists could have had access to a global flight database like FA’s when the post-9/11 “renditions” and “black sites” became known years later. Knowledge controls power and data is knowledge, even if it is not apparent at first how or why the data could become useful.

Yet, with all this said, I must also reiterate what I started with: do make sure you stay alive and well. That’s first priority.

If I was in your place, I will not think twice. I will simply power off the adsb equipment, and dismantle the setup, particularly the eye-catching outdoor antenna. I will not take any risks for a hobby. War is a serious thing.

When the war ends, and things normalize, I will reinstall everything.

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I looked up your user page and it seems I guessed correctly. Also, your coordinates have only one decimal, so it appears that you already have the setting at 10 km of your real location. But do also disable MLAT, because it can be reverse-engineered to pinpoint the position of a receiver.

FlightAware needs to know an accurate location for mlat to work, but it’s not possible for third parties to somehow use mlat to reverse-engineer your location.

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MLAT cannot be turned off for Flightfeeder, only for Piaware.

ive turned off the flight feeder, but cant find where to turn off the map. I’ll turn the feeder on in a couple of weeks when it cools down.

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My spontaneous thought there was that if you can triangulate a plane’s unknown position by its distance from two or more known observatories, then you can triangulate an observatory’s unknown position by its distance from the known position of two or more planes. Admittedly, I didn’t delve in the detail of how you’d do that.

Thinking more about it now, there was one bit missing in my reasoning: you also need to somehow know what the observatory observes. Thus, a completely passive observatory cannot be located by triangulation, but an observatory that emits pertinent information can. So I guess this boils down to two questions:

a) Can the MLAT information be captured (is the MLAT exchange encrypted)?
b) If FA’s MLAT is manipulated (e.g. with a rogue piaware feeding intentionally wrong data to FA), can the position of the unknown observatory be calculated from the published error in the known position of an aircraft?

Question a) is rhetorical, because if you know where to try to capture the information, you already have an IP-address that leads you straight to the observer, so you needn’t bother with MLAT.

I suspect that the answer to b) is always yes if there are only two MLAT reporting stations, the one being chased and the rogue one. If there are more reporting stations, things get more complicated. If FA adds a constantly changing random error to the MLAT positions that it reports, the hunters’ accuracy would suffer. Still, at least in theory, a state actor who thinks that a flightfeeder is a threat to national security, ought to be able to pinpoint the feeder with sufficient accuracy to actually find it.

The devil is in the details. You don’t know the relative transmission times of the aircraft messages (only the relative reception times), so this doesn’t work. You’re basically thinking of using the aircraft transponder in the same role as a GPS satellite, but aircraft transponders do not have a common synchronized clock as GPS satellites do.

I could see it being possible if

(a) you had visibility of the mlat traffic that the site was reporting
(b) you had the ability to set up dummy transponders within line of site of the receiver antenna at widely spaced locations with well synchronized (<1 us) transmission times

but that’s well into “at that point you probably know where the site is, anyway”

No, this is not plausible at all (starting with “you don’t have visibility of the other data” and “you don’t know which positions a feeder contributed to”, through “there are large errors already inherently present” and “there is a lot of filtering that goes on” and “you don’t know what the error in the position is, anyway”, and finally “bad data gets aggressively discarded anyway”).