Awesome Stuff: The Internet… Who Needs It?

from the good-ol-radio dept

As a growing number of web users have become more security-conscious, there’s been an explosion of VPNs and encryption tools and other security services for the internet. But what about a device that lets you bypass the internet entirely? That’s the goal of RATS, the Radio Transceiver System, an open source communication tool for the security-obsessed and/or the internet-bereft.

The Good

The RATS is simple: it’s a small antenna that connects to computers by USB and lets them send encrypted messages and file transfers directly, via radio transmission. There are two obvious advantages to this: firstly, it doesn’t rely on any network being up or even the power staying on — as long as your laptop has some batteries, you can send and receive — and secondly, it’s a level of security and privacy that trumps most of what you can do online. Apart from being entirely separated from the internet, it employs AES-256 encryption with a randomized salt so even the same message sent repeatedly will produce completely different encrypted data every time.

The range of the RATS antenna is about a kilometer in a city, but it can also be connected to superior antennas and, in areas with no obstacles, achieve ranges above 5km. Obviously this means it isn’t suited to everything, but alongside the internet it could be extremely powerful for certain local applications in urban neighborhoods, workplaces, and other situations where we normally use the robust global internet just to send short messages to people within walking distance. But perhaps more than anything it could be a boon for people living under governments that censor and monitor online communications, allowing local groups to coordinate without so much as touching the compromised networks.

The Bad

As noted, the RATS obviously isn’t for everyone or every situation, and the Kickstarter project page certainly lines up with the fact that this isn’t a regular consumer product. If anything, it feels a little more like a hobby project, with the pitch video seemingly incomplete and the fundraising target extremely low. This could raise a few red flags for cautious Kickstarter backers, though in truth it feels more like a labor of love by the Swedish creator, and is somewhat refreshing in a sea of crowdfunded technology with overproduced pitch videos and product pages full of PR speak.

One other concern with the RATS is the legality of the radio transmissions themselves. The software includes a system for downloading XML-based lists of available frequencies and selecting the appropriate transmitter power, but since this allocation differs from country to country, it will be up to the end user to make sure they aren’t breaking any broadcast laws.

The Open

One of the first things early backers asked about RATS was why its software wasn’t open source. The creator responded, saying that if that’s what people want then it’s what they’ll get, and has now pledged to open-source the software as soon as its complete and the device is shipped. It would have been even cooler to see it go through a full open source development process and be accessible from the start, but it’s great to see a creator rapidly and positively respond to these requests (especially since open source software makes especially good sense for a device like this, as it’s certainly not the kind of thing that should rely on security-by-obscurity).

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Comments on “Awesome Stuff: The Internet… Who Needs It?”

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15 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

But perhaps more than anything it could be a boon for people living under governments that censor and monitor online communications, allowing local groups to coordinate without so much as touching the compromised networks.

Probably not, as unless nearly everyone is using the system, the users stand out from the crowd. There is also the problem that being an easily identified group, makes it easy for the authorities to insert a spy. Therefore, unless everybody acts a a router for wider network, it is easy to identify who is talking to who, so that even with widespread use it is easy to identify the groups using the system.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Standing out from the crowd?

I disagree. Within a 1Km radius you might know there is someone transmitting, but localizing the guy will not prove anything simple. Pinpointing radio sources is not that easy and fast, and if the transmitting guy is not playing the sitting duck but is moving around you’d have a hard time putting your hand on him/her. And how could you know who is listening to whose transmission? You can end up figuring out who is transmitting encrypted messages, but how are you supposed to know who is receiving them? Routed messages over a network make it plain clear who is transmitting to whom, radio broadcasts do not, unless you can pinpoint only two active devices within each others range.

Me says:

Re: Re: Standing out from the crowd?

I’ve participated in ham radio fox hunts where we tracked down thransmitters over several km that only transmited for a few seconds every 5 minutes. I’ve done this using a handheld antenna no larger than my leg. I’ve even done it using just a plain rubber ducky antenna and my body as a movable shield.

It’s not that hard!

John P (profile) says:

Re: aes-256

That is so wrong. Allow me to quote from the wikipedia page on AES:

This is a very small gain, as a 126-bit key (instead of 128-bits) would still take billions of years. Also, the authors calculate the best attack using their technique on AES with a 128 bit key requires storing 288 bits of data (which later has been improved to 256 [28] ). That works out to about 38 trillion terabytes of data, which is more than all the data stored on all the computers on the planet. As such this is a theoretical attack that has no practical implication on AES security. …

As for now, there are no known practical attacks that would allow anyone to read correctly implemented AES encrypted data.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ... why not RSA

One of the RSA people is aleged to have said in the documents released by Snowden(?) that the NSA influenced the RSA guy to compromise something in the RSA thing.

Note too that RSA is really just for key exchange, not encryption of large volumes of data. RSA is computationally expensive. AES is less computationally expensive.

annonymouse (profile) says:

Re: You really want ultrawideband spread spectrum for this application

As a private citizen that ranges from problematic to impossible with a side order of you local flavor of Gintmo.
In NA you have almost free reign on most frequencies with a radio license if you stay below 1 watt and do not interfere with ANY commercial broadcast frequencies. …

The problem with a system like this, even with kudzu like encryption, is that it is a radio and therefore it is easy for any competent amateur to find the exact location.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: You really want ultrawideband spread spectrum for this application

“it is a radio and therefore it is easy for any competent amateur to find the exact location.”

Hmmm… 20dB below the noise floor. Good luck, amateur, knowing it’s even there in the first place!

Also, a multiplicity of (nowadays quite cheap) xmtrs (space division mplxing) can drive your hunters crazy.

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