My week 3 assignment can be found here.
Invent your own spoken, typed or visual image code, along with a reason for its use, that could be communicated through a mobile device using texting, image sharing, bluetooth or any other aspect of the mobile device.
I really like the idea of masking a conversation within a larger communications platform. Specifically, I think Twitter (at least right now) is an easy place for activists to exchange coded information because of its inherent qualities:
- It can be accessed on multiple platforms, including mobile;
- There is already a set of universal “codes,” such as “@,” “RT,” and “#” that can be exploited or re-purposed;
- It’s easier to hide communications in plain sight when there is already a large volume of messages being exchanged;
I’ve named my code StegaTweet, which is based on the science of steganography, or hiding one message inside another message. Obviously I’ve co-opted the term for my own use here, which differs from the more traditional use of steganography where messages are disguised inside the code of audio or image files.
I imagine StegaTweet as a useful code for a small group of people (maybe 10) who are mobile and need to communicate privately among themselves where email or SMS communication might compromise the team’s security. Mind you, Twitter is already in use by activists as a means of communications. What’s unique here is the code that I developed, not Twitter as the networking platform. For this particular set of codes, let’s imagine that it’s for a team of leaders at a large political rally in New York.
For this to work, each person involved needs to have a Twitter account with a code name, a complete bio w/fake picture so as not to arouse suspicion. Everyone should then share their handle with the group. You should also actively use the account before you need it incorporating some of the code words to make it harder to break when it’s time to use it for real. It also makes sense to follow more people than just your team members to help preserve your anonymity. This is where adding spambots might actually prove useful!
Another thing you’ll need is a Twitter app on your phone, such as Tweetdeck or any of the other Twitter applications available for your mobile device. That way, you can follow hundreds of people and still be able to filter the Tweets coming from the small group of people on your team with little effort. To everyone else, it will look like a normal Twitter account. Only the people who are part of your team will know what your Tweets mean. What’s also useful about Tweetdeck is that you can have multiple accounts running at once (one for private communication with the leaders and another, say, to communicate with the larger group).
As an experiment, watch the Twitter stream of a random person for one day and see how random the messages are. Another advantage of this method is you will never have to actually send a Tweet directly to another team member to get his/her attention, maintaining everyone’s anonymity. This type of planning will pay off in the long run.
I’ve tried to incorporate as many of the short codes already used by people on Twitter to help messages sound innocuous in case your Twitter stream is discovered or monitored. As a reference for what code phrases might be useful to activists, I referenced “Messaging Through Distortion: Texting at the RNC” by The Ruckus Society.
The basic idea is that only a few words in each Tweet have a meaning, the rest is just filler.
Check in/Check Out: [time of day] + tweeple. Tweeple is a Twitter short code for your Twitter followers. Nothing else matters. The use of ‘tweeple’ indicates you have checked in and you are able to send/receive messages.
Example: “good evening, tweeple.” or “just got my morning coffee, tweeple. go java!”
Security Warnings: [Crime TV show] + location. This would indicate that there is a problem in that area. If you need assistance, include @aplusk (Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter handle).
Example: Film trucks on 4th and Avenue A. Probably Law & Order or something. @aplusk guest star?
Security Response: @aplusk + [positive/negative comment]. Positive indicates you are coming, negative you are not.
Example: @aplusk sighting? Gotta check it out!
Everything okay and on the move: RT. RT is Retweet on Twitter and is used to amplify someone else’s message by sharing it with your followers. In this case, it’s just a red herring.
Example: RT @zelda – today is the anniversary of Nintendo’s GameBoy. Huzzah!
Meetings: “#” + location. A “#” is called a hashtag and it’s used so people can do a search and find all the threads to a certain conversation. Since you all know you’re in the same city, you can use yours to identify the time and location of a meeting. The meeting time should be agreed upon beforehand (i.e. 30 minutes after the message is sent).
Example: Starbucks on Astor Place is too crowded #avoid.
StegaTweet is an exercise in creating a secret code. Since it’s published here, (obviously) I’d recommend not using it in a real world scenario without changing the code to meet your needs. I also recognize that it might not include enough detail or might omit some codes that would be useful for small group communication.
In either case, feedback is welcome via the comments section below.
Assignment was to listen to an online police or fire scanner stream for two hours and document what you hear. I chose to monitor the FDNY.
Listen to an online police or fire scanner stream for two hours and document what you hear. Specifically listen for codes, protocol and other methods of communicating complex information. (link)
I chose to monitor the FDNY because I thought it would be useful to know the streets and addresses referenced by dispatch. I also considered listening to one of the scanners in Florida, since that’s where most of the episodes of COPS are filmed.
First, two hours sounds like a long time, but it takes just about that long to get a feel for how the communication protocol works and to become familiar with new jargon. It took at least an hour of listening to start finding patterns and to decode the chatter.
Here are some of my observations:
1. 248 was the code for the dispatcher. This was the point person communicating with various engine companies.
2. The dispatcher noted the time at the end of each transmission by saying the numbers (i.e. 11:47 was spoken as ’1-1-4-7′) and then giving his dispatch number (248).
3. No conversation lasted longer than 10 seconds. Most were shorter than 5 and involved only two or three exchanges between the dispatcher and the contact.
4. Through some research into the ‘10 codes‘ used by firefighters as shorthand for various messages, I understand that I heard the following codes used:
- 10-4: Acknowledgment
- 10-6: Stand by
- 10-18: Return all units except 1 engine AND 1 ladder
- 10-32: Defective oil burner
- 10-12: First arriving unit give preliminary
- 10-40: Utility emergency
- 10-33 code 2: Odor of smoke (any other type of odor)
5. The dispatcher addressed the firefighters in a variety of ways (battalion 11, ladder 12, engine 5), and I was unclear what the difference was among these groups. It’s possible that it indicated in code the rank of the responder or it might have differentiated between two trucks from the same firehouse.
6. Much of the chatter was faster than I could transcribe it, and sometimes so garbled I was surprised not to hear more use of code 10-5 (Repeat).
7. A lot of the exchanges were simply 10-4, confirmation that the message was received.
8. At two points, I heard what sounded like Morse Code beeping, but I was unable to determine its significance.
Date: Saturday, September 26
URL: The Bravest
Time: 11:45 AM – 1:45 PM
1144: what can I do for you?
subway exits on 14th and avenue A. 10-4
just got another call
inspecting 166 and 167
sending you a gas leak [gives address] odor of gas.
ladder 12 became available. unknown where its coming from. [gives more precise address]
engine 5 here.
conversation about address and odor
odor is at 17th and 8th
[Morse code sounding beeps]
47 we responded 1196
telephone 1196 [gives address] smelling fire on roof
elevator shut down and white smoke in that area
1194 [unintelligible] 248
1200 hours is the time at 248
auto accident, no injuries
10-4 what direction?
inspecting subway entrance engine 246
1157 we already 86′d the lights in station
1206 the time at 248
10-18 1196 10-32 battalion [unintelligible]
80 we sent you an EMS you get that?
10-4 thank you
supposed to be a female struck. 1204 248
man a lot of 26
engine 8 ok
alarm box 1791 [address] smell of gas (repeats)
10-12 on the 19
1211 is the time on that 248
10-12 code apartment 6charles
1212 the time on that 248
that’s affirmative, over
can you call 32 recorded
1214 the time 248
engine 54 10-4
can i have battalion 2
1217 the time of that 248
Manhattan bat 1
can you call your quarter?
1218 at 248
10-18 1791 battalion 7
1220 the time 248
going back to the bronx at 1224 hours
[Morse code like beeps]
Manhattan battalion 7
3 and 2 at the hotel.
fire alarm at the hotel [gives address]
[gives address] odor from building. code is a 540. Manhattan battalion 6. we have 3 engines and 1 truck.
1238 time 248
1133 investigating an odor on the 5th floor
10-18 testing the alarm system
battalion 2 10-4
1244 the time on that 248
140 code 2
1248 the time
come in engine 53
might be on the far side
the 10-40 on the walkway.
10-4 Manhattan 53
you have to enter …
53 do you require any add’l resources?
we didn’t get on the scene yet
1314 on that 248
ladder 43 – relay to ladder 53 we are being waved in to a pier on the east river by some civilians just off of 103 street and we’re pulling in now
53 did you hear that?
going there now
let us know if you need any add’l resources
median on west side highway, rubbish on fire.
10-33 there’s no fire at that location
10-33 code 2 547 1019
engine 3 Manhattan
inspecting subway exits 130 and 13 110
10-18 box 547
assigned to 6 bound and zero
assigned as to 13210
1331 Manhattan 248
After reading a few of the stories posted to this LiveJournal site, I chose to write a 55 word story. Here goes:
The teahouse owner shuffles to my table and announces, “the Maoist rebels have arrived.” He bows, palms pressed together, then disappeares. I glance towards the trio of soldiers huddled around the fire chanting propaganda from a book. The youngest looks at me, shifts his rifle to the opposite shoulder. I slurp my soup, waiting.