Brazil cracks down on sat-hackers who bounce ham signals off US military satellites

Brazilian radio-cops are handing out $20,000 fines to satellite hackers who bounce their ham signals off FLTSATCOM — an array of disused US military satellites — using them as range-extenders for purposes as diverse as trucker-chatter to avoiding the logging cops in illegal Amazon logging operations:

To use the satellite, pirates typically take an ordinary ham radio transmitter, which operates in the 144- to 148-MHZ range, and add a frequency doubler cobbled from coils and a varactor diode. That lets the radio stretch into the lower end of FLTSATCOM's 292- to 317-MHz uplink range. All the gear can be bought near any truck stop for less than $500. Ads on specialized websites offer to perform the conversion for less than $100. Taught the ropes, even rough electricians can make Bolinha-ware.

"I saw it more than once in truck repair shops," says amateur radio operator Adinei Brochi (PY2ADN) "Nearly illiterate men rigged a radio in less than one minute, rolling wire on a coil."

Brochi, who assembled his first radio set from spare parts at 12, has been tracking the Brazilian satellite hacking problem (.pdf) for years.

Brochi says the Pentagon's concerns are obvious.

"If a soldier is shot in an ambush, the first thing he will think of doing will be to send a help request over the radio," observes Brochi. "What if he's trying to call for help and two truckers are discussing soccer? In an emergency, that soldier won't be able to remember quickly how to change the radio programming to look for a frequency that's not saturated."

The Great Brazilian Sat-Hack Crackdown

(Photo: Divulgação/Polícia Federal)