Thoughts on Security

Currently, our feeds are unfiltered.  Please note that this information is transmitted from each aircraft, in clear text, unencrypted over the air, and participants are merely receiving it. Any concern that “bad guys” might use this information needs to be tempered with the fact that anyone can easily build their own basic receiver that can grab this information for less than $100, and deploy it themselves without any help whatsoever.  The folks over at OpenBARR also know this.

This is by far not the only way to get “unfiltered” aircraft data over the internet.  It is the most user-friendly, however.

Implementing filters would merely be “security theater” at this point.  Such “security theater” is very popular these days, however.

I’m sure this will be a point of discussion going forward, and I welcome comments below.

42 thoughts on “Thoughts on Security”

  1. Full agreement on keeping the data unfiltered. All filters do is deprive law-abiding people of data. When data is outlawed, only outlaws will have data.

    If the aviation authorities really want the data hidden, they can mandate encryption.

    Open flight tracking data gives quite a lot of transparency after accidents: think of the reduction in nonsense after crashes in recent years. We had a good idea of why Germanwings went in after public ADS-B data showed a deliberate descent from cruise alt.

  2. The more aircraft that can be seen in the air, the safer it will be to be up there, which is the whole point surely, as soon as you start to encrypt data you are back to square one.
    As in all walks of life you have a choice, what is more important, making the skies much safer for the millions of people who use it every year, or hiding data on the off chance that someone might be able to use data to cause some kind of problem ?
    At the end of the day, if you are flying over a dangerous part of the world, or on a “sensitive” mission, it can be turned off !

    1. This Totaly Correct! Even the US airforce have learned to go into full stealth mode by just switching off the transponder.

      1. I love that we think we will be more safe by making this data available on the internet somehow. If the pressure to be stealth is to turn off a transponder because of this then we are all *less* safe.

        1. “The pressure to be stealth is to turn off a transponder” because literally anyone can get the same data themselves for a few bucks. It has nothing to do with making the data available on the internet. That’s literally on the homepage, on this page, etc. No one ever said it made us more safe, by the way – only that it doesn’t make us less safe.

  3. While anyone can indeed build a simple receiver, or buy a more sophisticed one for that matter, you can only track aircraft that transmit a full ADS-B signal. Bizjets, military and others who do not wish to be tracked use Mode-S or Mode-A/B/C. These cannot be tracked with any receiver, as you well know, they can only be tracked by multilateration. By allowing those aircraft tracks to be published on an open website you are putting the hobby in jeopardy.

  4. Concerning displays of Military aircraft traffic . There is no problem of security because what we see about those military aircraft are Non confidential stuff . What is confidential is the liason between Call-sign and mission asssigned . But this mission assigned is not into the information into the ADSB information .
    Every body know what is Air Force >One ……. Prsedent of USA onboard . This information is confidential …. but all the world known that ….. CTM001 Cotam 0001 …… is The President of France this info is Confidential But not find into ADSB . AL01 and AL02 are sepcial Mission for Belgium F16 ….. i can not says what but as i explain all tactical mission information are not found in ADSB ……. all info in ADSB are not confidential …. all the other stuff are added by guys who knows something but surely they are not allowed to says hat on the web ……
    I’m myself working in military air defence . I know what i can do But what i’m sure is that information contained in ADSB = ICAO 24 Bit are not military confidential . Thisis only adding other information in conjunction with ADSB dat who are confidential . Thus please you , user of that Websit DO NOT Link ADSB with ours Info who are surely interresting but confidential .

  5. As with most things in life there is always much more than meets the eye, or that can happen that some people choose not to think of or worry about as it doesn’t directly affect them.

    Sure, anyone can buy the technology cheaply to receive ADS-B, much like anyone can buy a scanner to listen into local Law Dispatch, and that in itself doesn’t usually pose a problem, however when those people then rebroadcast such information making it easier for others to use (or in some cases abuse), as not every criminal is tech savvy or smart, that is when things can take a turn for the worst.

    Point in case, a local Ham Operator worked out how to decode our local Digital (unencrypted) EDACS (Provoice) Law Dispatch channel, which might I add cannot be monitored by any conventional scanners as none can decode the Provoice protocol, it consisted of using an SDR and some readily available software, however 99% of our local population would not have known anything about it, however the Ham Operator decided in his wisdom to post it on his blog explaining how it could be done, within months of his posting crime rates had gone up as people not only now knew it could be done, but some were now ‘streaming’ it over the net live, allowing criminals to make use of the info via mobile phones in real-time and staying one step a head of our local law enforcement agencies, all without spending a thing or being tech savvy.

    However the criminals using it wasn’t the worst part, that was easily countered by our system quickly moving to a more modern network using the encrypted P25 protocol, the actual worst part was it stopped the genuine hobbyists from being able to monitor yet another part of the RF spectrum that they had been able to for quite a while (with no consequences might I add), all due to someone having the need to publicly repeat everything and share info that while it may not be illegal it is at best morally wrong, the difference being the genuine hobbyist knows to keep such things to themselves and doesn’t contribute to the info being shared (leaked) with a wider and unknown (untrusted) audience who for years were blissfully unaware, and this situation is being repeated all over the world with various communications and data mediums, as the old saying goes “lose lips sink ships!”.

    So I’d seriously enjoy plane tracking while you still can, pretty soon Governments and the likes around the world, especially those who are ‘conspiracists’ , will be driving hard for planes (and others) to use encrypted links and keep stuff away from the general public, all due to a small minority who abuse it, and sites like this will only give them more ammunition to achieve it.

    And to those who say “if it’s in the clear is up for grabs, if they encrypt they are hiding something”, well some things are not as plain and as straight forward as that, and I’m sure if one of your loved ones or family members were injured or even killed, caused directly by data or comm’s being ‘shared’ by someone else, you would be the first to jump up and down demanding it be stopped, it’s all to easy to carry on about freedom of speech etc when it doesn’t or hasn’t affected you!

    I’m not biased either, I’m a scanner enthusiast, plane spotter (recreational Pilot too) and retired State Trooper, just calling it as I’ve experienced it.

    So enjoy while you can!

    1. There’s a strange argument in this:
      First you state that a Ham operator discovered and published how to decode the communication ( using readilly available hard/software ). This implies no other members from the public could do so before.
      But than you state that the general hobbyist is now no longer able to listen in. But before the Ham published his findings they could not listen to the communication anyway!

      You are wrong in marking criminals as stupid. This may be true for a small percentage ( the average street robber ) but be assured that criminals do not lack intelligence. There is no reason to believe that intelligent people do not become criminals. You would not classify ATM scammers as dumb, would you?

      There is also no evidence that crime and the abillity for the general public to intercept communication is linked. Did crimerates surge after implementing secured communication? Probably not.
      But it can be argued that publishing this kind of information leads to better security. In this case your communication got encrypted. As it should have been in the first place.

      In general: I’d rather trust someone who discovered a leak in security and shows it to the world than someone who keeps it to himself.

  6. It seems that law enforcement often depends on criminals being “stupid” or “not tech savvy” to maintain an advantage. I’m not sure that is a very good strategy.

    Here in the US, there are all kinds of iPhone apps for listening to emergency services traffic – you don’t even have to buy a scanner. It’s a fact of life.

    Also, there are benefits to being able to monitor this traffic, such as questionable surveillance practices as we’ve seen lately.

  7. For people living under Temporary Reserved Airspaces the unfiltered information is neccesary to make suggestions to their government regarding de-concentration of the noise. For example if squadrons fly little circles in big training air spaces, thus leaving smaller air spaces unused, then people can ask them “why don’t you help us distributing the noise”?

    Thanks to ADSBX we can. Other sites were of no help, hiding informations for no reason.

  8. I don’t think it is appropriate for sites like Flightaware, etc. to depend on data fed by its users, but then restrict those users from being able to see the resultant data (anywhere).

    As has been stated, this is information that is freely available. The idea that it would be used for some nefarious purpose is, I believe, a smokescreen to cover for the fact that some “special people” don’t want their private aircraft to show on these sites. Sorry about that. The fact that the “big sites” willingly comply with these “special people” (probably for money) to me is a breach of ethical behavior since the very data they are hiding is data supplied to them by you and me.

    If they could achieve the coverage they do with their own sources, fine… Your data, restrict or sell restrictions as you see fit. When “their own sources” are you and I, such restriction is wrong. I don’t even have a problem with restriction for public consumption, but if you feed, you should be able to see.

  9. I have a problem in that I cannot get on the web for global tracking of the military aircraft. I have Linux as my OS with Firefox as one Web Browser and also a Chromium Web Browser. Can anyone walk me through getting access to the actual tracking data?

  10. Can someone help with gaining access to the global tracking of military aircraft? I have Linux as my OS and Firefox and Chromium Web browsers.

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  12. In my opinion filtering feeds is just the opposite of security. When I see a plane in real life and doesn’t find it in filtered feeds, this is a “red flag”. For example when I ear the very specific noise of Airbus A400M (quad-turboprop), filtered feeds are just confirmations that the flight is military/confidential/whatever. If it is an Antonov An-12 (quad-turboprop as well) , used as civilian cargo, it will not be filtered and will not raise any attention. And yes, I don’t even need a $100 receiver, just my ears and eyes can spot a plane, but only filtered feeds can tell me it is a peculiar flight !
    Conclusion : filtered feeds put red flags on flight that would want to go “stealth” and would go unnoticed otherwise !

  13. I completely agree that it is security theatre. However, I support this idea for what I believe is a more compelling reason.

    In Australia, we operate police helicopters. There is one at my local airport where I regular fly myself, registered VH-NVK, a BO-105. The police contact others who run these receivers and ask that they filter the police aircraft. This is an example of requesting that the public assist in police operations. The general public, unaware of aviation laws or laws of police powers, are unaware that they can simply say no to this request.

    Therefore, I fully support adsbexchange on this issue.

  14. Unfortunately rules are now made to control the lowest common denominator and the normal law abiding citizen suffers because the establishment make knee jerk decisions to try and show they are doing something.

    If mlat data is a potential problem then at some point restrictions may well be put in place, I have no desire to specifically plot military planes but, by the same token, I am sure they would be able to cloak their location if required.

    There will be continuous debate over this and it may well end up that those on the extreme edges of opinion will cause changes, way of the World now.

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  17. It’s obvious most of you are not pilots and/or aircraft owners. You think you should be able access all ADSB data simply because it is openly broadcast when you have no valid need for the data. The data is for ATC and pilots to keep track of each other not for you hobbiests and plane spotters etc. Don’t forget that ADSB is an FAA Mandate in order to fly in much of the nations airspace. As pilots living near metro areas you have no choice. Let’s have the government mandate you all have GPS transponders on your cars so I can watch where you and your family go and see how you like it. The real fault lies with how the feds designed the sytem initially but now you can take advantage of the electronic shortcomings of the system. Most of you have no valid reason to see where I or anyone else flies on our own time and money so quit pretending you have the “right”. Those of you who say to “turn it off” have no idea what your talking about. If you have it installed in your airplane you must leave it on at all times according to the FAA regs.

    1. As a pilot, I feel very strongly that this data is the product of the desire for improved flight safety. Any other use, including by hobbyists, is inappropriate. I favor the idea of encrypting this data.
      Doing this for safety of flight is a very very good thing, it has helped immensely with this already. For any other purpose, I disapprove.

  18. Private Flyer touches upon my primary objection to the FAA ADS-B mandate. As a 1090ES operator, I am required to broadcast my registration and position in the clear, at all times during all flights. Given that aircraft registrations are public record, and are often associated with owners’ physical addresses, this effectively broadcasts to the entire world the fact they are not at home. From that standpoint it’s even worse than having your car broadcast your license plate and GPS position because car registration information isn’t nearly as readily available. Using a pseudonymous identifier for ADS-B broadcasts would be much preferred, but isn’t an option for 1090ES aircraft.

    Having said that, I don’t object to adsbexchange’s unfiltered policy. As the OP points out, any filtering is merely “security theater” since the data is being broadcast in the clear and likely collected by other individuals and organizations. This isn’t the first time the FAA has overlooked privacy implications. It used to be your pilot certificate number was your SSN, and, among other things, flight instructors were required to sign all their student’s logbooks with their certificate number… Sigh.

  19. I didn’t see the corruption fighting aspect mentioned in the discussion.
    Using public ADS-B data in conjunction with ATIS data allowed a Russian corruption fighting organization FBK ( ) to uncover illegal use of government owned aircraft and their “sale” to off-shores, to be used by relatives and mistresses.
    Sometimes the government is the bad guys, and it is in public interest to expose them.

  20. ADS-B is meant as a safety protocol. By publishing this data and making it easily available to anyone, you are putting pressure on those who value secrecy over safety to disable it. This makes everyone less safe and less secure.

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