Monday, May 02, 2022

Podcast Nuggets Episode 9

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It's been quite a while since the last podcast nuggets, due to the move of our website and other time consuming stuff, but again we have a selection of amazing interviews.

Learn to fly with Air America (spoiler, not for faint-hearted), think twice before using a secure cell phone, how was British turncoat Kim Philby in private, and how good were the German codebreakers during the Second World War?

COLD WAR CONVERSATIONS - Flying for the CIA’s Air America in South East Asia is quite a story. Pilot Neil Hansen applied in 1964 for a job with an airliner called Air America. As most people, he had never heard of that company, and they apparently only had three airplanes. He soon learned it was the CIA and his first flight was with the Chinese flag on the plane's tail. The next flight was a plane with all markings stripped off, and soon also "black" flights. From then on, it only got more exciting and more dangerous. Flights over Vietnam, Laos, and often very risky places to land or drop cargo. Make sure to check the show notes and videos underneath the interview.

DARKNET DIARIES - Secret Cells Jack Rhysider talks with Joseph Cox about crypto phones. If you want to have a really private conversation, don't use your smartphone. Dive into the shady world of secure cell phones. It sounds a great idea to have a secure phone to protect your privacy, but organized crime also loves secure phones. When Australian and Canadian police discovered that Phantom Secure phones were used in an assassination plot, they could not read the communications. When those Phantom phones also turned up in the United States, the FBI got involved and that started quite an extraordinary operation.

COLD WAR CONVERSATIONS - Charlotte Philby about her grandfather Soviet spy Kim Philby. From 1934 until 1963, British intelligence officers Kim Philby worked for the Soviet secret service as double agent. Edith Tudor-Hart was an Austrian-British photographer who brought Philby in contact with the KGB. In this interview, granddaughter Charlotte Philby talks about the research she did for her book "Edith and Kim". This includes her own private archive with letters from Kim Philby and secret files on Edith Tudor-Hart. Charlotte's visits to Philby in Moscow also give an insight in the private life of probably the most notorious British spy ever. See also the show notes photos and videos underneath the podcast.

HISTORY HACK - German Code-Breaking in WW2 is the hardly known history of the German signals intelligence and codebreaking organizations before and during the Second World War. Christian Jennings' book "The Third Reich Is Listening" finally sheds light on an almost forgotten part of the war. We all know the famous British codebreakers that cracked the German Enigma machine, but the Germans also had their successes. However, they also suffered from conflicts and distrust among the many different cryptologic services. The interview is a perfect introduction to Christian's book (see also my website book review)

Monday, March 14, 2022

Elite Box Challenge

We're exited to announce today the Elite Box Challenge, the successor of the 2007 Crypto Box Challenge. This new challenge will  be far more difficult. As before, it's your task to shuffle the rows and columns of boxes with text in such way that the original text appears. The challenge starts Friday, March 18.

The crypto boxes have more steps than the previous challenge, but also different ways the plain text is composed and processed, and there's one box with an unknown language. Also new this year, for each box you solve, you move one place higher in the Table of Honor, but it's up to you in what order you want to solve the boxes. You can start with the easiest or with the most difficult, if you can figure out which one is.

More steps, fractionation and different languages is a pretty hard nut to crack and not for the faint-hearted. The Crypto Box Tool and working out things on paper won't be enough to solve the Elite Box Challenge, as the complexity increases with the increase of steps, also unknown number of steps, and different languages means other statistics to apply. Again a most complex brain-teasing puzzle.

If you think you're up to it, and want to earn your place in the Table of Honor, then mark the date and prepare your attacks. The three texts are published this Friday.

More information

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Cipher Machines and Cryptology Moved!

Our website Cipher Machines and cryptology moved to a new location with new domain name! Visit the website at

Despite the odd URL (users.telenet), the old website managed to attract 4.374.600 visits from across the world. I never expected this for an "obscure" subject as cryptography, hence the simple users storage server. The provider however recently decided to terminate the users web spaces, and we had to find another server and domain, but that's all past history now.

The old URL is terminated permanently!

The new website has its own dedicated place on the www, but there's more. The website now supports https, making your visit secure and anonymous, as your connection is encrypted. Quite normal today, but https wasn't that common for non-commercial websites in 2004.
Important tip: If your browser reports that our website is unsafe to visit (it is safe) and your brower or system has not been updated for a while, then your SSL/TLS (for https) might be outdated. Update browser and system, and you'll be much safer on the Internet. You should see a little lock symbol in the address bar of your browser.

Finally moved to

The move also involved adjusting numerous links. The website runs smoothly, but given the many internal and external links, we might still have missed a few of them. If you encounter links or downloads that send you to the old "users.telenet" website, or some other glitch, just drop a note and we'll correct it.
Also, if you have issues, a hard refresh of the moody webpage might clear old html issues. And if you ever lose our address, simply remember good old Cipher Machines and Cryptology, with dot com... or simply visit this blog again ;-]

If you saved the old link in your bookmarkes or favorites, or published yhe link on a webpage or blog, make sure to change the old URL into the new Much appreciated, as it can take weeks or even months before Google indexes a moved website completely, despite registering in their Search Console. Spread the news of the move!

If you ever wondered what a domain name actually is, and who's running the DNS or Domain Name System, then check this video from The Guardian. Well, thank you guys for keeping my new domain name safe. See also this post from The Guardian.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Russia’s Modern Early Warning Systems

Duga-1 OTH Receiver
Source: Ingmar Runge
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed various early warning systems to detect the launch of  intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The Duga OTH (over-the-horizon) radar was a well known example. Although top secret at the time, the Duga soon got nicknamed "the woodpecker" in the West because of its characteristic repetitive tapping noise that disrupted HF utility and communications signals across the world. By the mid-1980s it became clear that the Duga's technology at the time was inadequate. More about the Duga radar in our Mysterious Cold War Signals.

With the Duga radars no longer operational, what other systems protected the Soviet Union and now Russia? The SPRN System Warning on Missile Attack (Rus. Sistema Preduprezhdeniya o Raketnom Napadenii) consist of both satellites and land-based radar.

Early Soviet Satellite Program
The Soviet Око program (Eng. eye) to develop early warning satellites was already initiated in the late 1960s. Its first US-K satellite Космос-520 (Eng. Cosmos) was launched in 1972. To this day, all early warning satellites are designated Космос, followed by a three or four-digit number.

This first generation US-K Managed Satellite Continental (Rus. Upravlyayemyy Sputnik Kontinental'nyy) was placed in a highly elliptical Molniya orbit.  The similar US-KS Managed Satellite Continental Stationary (Rus. Upravlyayemyy Sputnik Kontinental'nyy Statsionarnyy) was placed in geosynchronous orbit. More on orbits in the further reading links.

US-K and US-KS Satellite
The first 13 US-K satellites, launched between 1972 and 1979, were very unreliable and short-lived. The following US-K and US-KS satellites were launched from 1979, with the first combat ready in 1982. In total, 86 US-K and 7 US-KS satellites were launched between 1972 and 2010. The large number of satellites was due to their limited lifespan, on average 2 to 4 years, largely determined by their liquid-fuel reserve for the orbit correction engines.

They carried a stabilized infrared telescope with 50 cm mirror to detect missile exhaust heat and were also equipped with multiple smaller telescopes. They didn't always work flawlessly, with dangerous consequences, as you can read in our 3 Seconds from World War 3.

Second Generation Око-1 with Issues

The second generation satellites from the Око-1 program launched between 1991 and 2012 eight US-KMO Managed Satellite Control Ocean Seas (Rus. Upravlyayemyy Sputnik Kontrol' Morey Okeanov) in a geosynchronous orbit, with an expected lifespan of 5 to 7 years, which they never lived up to.

US-KMO Satellite
Source: Novosti Kosmonavtik
The US-KMO had a 100 cm mirror and could also detect submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). However, they proved very unreliable to detect such missile launches and several failed after a few months.  They are no longer operational since 2014. Only two older US-KS satellites remained in orbit.
The Unified Space System

From 2015 on, the US-КMO satellites were gradually replaced by the new generation Tundra satellites (Тундра), part of the EKS Unified Space System - Detection and Combat Control (Rus. Edinoy Kosmicheskoy Sistemy - Obnaruzheniya i Boyevogo Upravleniya), also known as Kupol (Купол).
A this moment, five Tundra satellites are in a Molniya orbit, despite the satellite's name suggesting the highly elliptical geosynchronous Tundra orbit (taking a full sidereal day) which has a closed figure 8 ground track with a small fast loop and a large slow loop (apogee dwell). Tundra's large slow loop provides very long coverage of the designated area, requiring only two satellites for continuous cover versus three with Molniya orbit (half a sidereal day). The Molniya orbit might be chosen because it requires less launch energy than a Tundra orbit (a sidereal day is one Earth rotation of 23h 56m 04s).

At Gunter's Space Page more details on the US-K, UK-KS, US-KMO and Tundra satellites. The US-K was carried in orbit with the Molniya-M launcher, both US-KS and US-KMO with the Proton-K launcher, and the Tundra with Soyuz-2-1b Fregat. The contractor for most of the satellites is Kometa Corporation (translation), previously known as TsNII Kometa. The Tundra is manufactured by RKK Energia.

Today's Early Warning Radar

The Russian Federation also revived the long-distance early warning capabilities to track ballistic missiles with a new generation of radar, called 77Ya6 Voronezh (Rus. 77Я6 Воронеж). The NIIDAR scientific research institute initiated its research for early warning radar in the late 1970s.

The Voronezh  is a line-of-sight phased array radar, a fixed antenna that directs its radar beam electronically. There are five different types. The Voronezh-M (VHF), DM (UHF), VP (high-power VHF), SM (SHF) and MSM (dual VHF-SHF). They have a range up to 6000 km (3728 mi) and can track 500 targets simultaniously. The first Voronezh on actual combat duty operates since 2009. Meanwhile, seven of ten planned radars are operational across Russia.

Voronezh-M Radar in Lekhtusi, Leningrad region (source Russian Army)

The Voronezh is  the first radar of VZG High Factory Readiness (ВЗГ - высокой заводской готовности). Its factory-made modular structures allow fast construction, between one and two years. More technical information and many detailed images of the Voronezh radar at Military Russia blog (translation) and at New Defense Order (translation).

One Voronezh-DM radar is located near Pionersky, a city in the Kaliningrad oblast. This is a quite unique but smartly chosen location, as Kaliningrad is today completely surrounded by Poland and Lithuania, two EU countries that are also NATO members.

Kaliningrad was previously the East Prussian city Königsberg, part of Germany. After the Second World War, Kaliningrad became part of the Soviet Union and the Kaliningrad oblast became an administrative part of the Russian Federation in 1991. This required special travel arrangements for the inhabitants, enclosed between Poland and Lithuania. An early warning system for nuclear missiles inside the territory of the main adversary? That's as close as it gets!

на новой суперсовременной РЛС семейства Воронеж
State-of-the-art radar of Voronezh family (auto-translate available)

50 лет назад создана система предупреждения о ракетном нападении
Missile attack warning system created 50 years ago
(auto-translate available)

Further Reading and Technical Details

Satellites and Orbits
Early Warning Systems
         Satellite Manufacturers

More Related on This Blog

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Agent - KGB Illegal Jack Barsky's Story

A new 12-episode podcast series brings the extraordinary life of a young student turned spy. The life of talented East German student Albrecht Dittrich took an irreversible turn when he decided to accept an invitation to work for the almighty Russian KGB. He was sent to Moscow and trained extensively to become an illegal agent, the elite among spies.

Albrecht Dittrich arrived in the United States in 1978 and developed a new life under the name Jack Barsky. A decade later, in a risky move, he cut ties with the KGB. By 1997, Jack Barsky had become a family man with a successful career, living the American dream, when his past caught up with him and his fate was in the hands of the FBI.

In 2017, Jack Barsky wrote the book Deep Undercover, detailing his life and career as a spy. The book is a real page-turner that gives a unique look into his life, the training as KGB illegal and working in the United States.

In the new podcast series, he tells the story in his own words. In 12 episodes, you will you crawl under Jack's skin and listen how real spies are literally created, and how they operate. The podcast is an excellent additional spoken account of his life as KGB agent, with many new details. I can highly recommend the book, but hearing the story, told by Jack himself, is a truly fascinating.
The Agent is available on all popular podcast platforms, with each Monday a new episode. A production of Imperative Entertainment, produced and edited by Jason Hoch, narrated by Alden Ehrenreich and, of course, by Jack Barsky himself.
See also the Book review of  Deep Undercover on our blog. Read more about Jack Barsky on our blog.