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UVB-76 (wikipedia.org)
195 points by tintinnabula on Nov 26, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 63 comments



A couple months ago I got really interested in SDR (software-defined radio) for a brief period. I made a write-up on my site about my experiences (includes The Buzzer, number stations, and some other neat things): https://www.justus.ws/tech/sdr-adventures-in-shortwave/


This is great! Thanks.


Thanks for this write-up!


In Russian-speaking world, the function of UVB-76 is known and scans of expired codebooks have been posted online. Long story short: it's a military communications system that uses one-time pads. Military units monitor transmissions and use unique decoding sheets to translate random numbers and keywords into messages such as "readiness level 1" or "execute action 5". It's mainly a backup system intended for use when everything else fails, because even off-the-shelf hand-cranked consumer radios would enough to receive messages, given the right decoding sheets. The amount of radio traffic on the station has usually seen an uptick during major military exercises.


Why are there sometimes strange artifacts heard on the channel?

Is that a hoax, interference or something else?


Backup communication systems like this are often implemented with the most basic of components to increase reliability and ease of use in stressful situations.

The trade off is sometimes human error happens. It isn't really a big deal since the messages themselves are encrypted inside of a secure facility then transmitted to a non-secure area that handles the actual broadcast (since it would be stupid to put a massive transmitter in the room with your super secrets).


So they’re broadcasting super-secret messages from their living rooms?


It could be a numbers station but (1) the known numerical messages are very short and (2) that wouldn’t explain why there is a buzzer.


My guess would be that the buzzer is so that the listeners know the station is still "up" and hasn't been destroyed


Or to keep the frequency free from other transmitters, as described in the article


The buzzer is there for both to mark the frequency and signal that it's alive. Its old sequence had a hourly faster buzz which returned to normal at the beginning of the hour. It looked like this

  X:59:00 - Buzzing gets faster.
  (X+1):00:00 - Normal buzzing resumes.
I think it served as a crude hourly sync signal for some systems until GLONASS came and provided atomic level sync. This also implies that there may be other non-human systems listening for this station.

It can be speculated that Russian Perimeter (Dead Hand) system [0] may be one of the listeners.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Hand


The Wikipedia article makes the operation of that station appear to be at a level that is far more relaxed than what I would expect from a really important continuous liveness signal. So I consider the use for something as lethal as the Dead Hand system unlikely, if it even still exists.


If I understood correctly, Dead Hand has many inputs and generally stays off so, maintenance won't create unintended consequences.

If whole system (and world's fate) relies on a single buzzer, we have much bigger problems :)


Would that mean that if the buzzing stops for an extended period, Dead Hand assumes World War 3 is underway and launches the missiles?


According to available information (and speculation), perimeter listens to various inputs (which is a good thing).

It's said that it has connections to seismic and pressure sensors and can check whether communication to critical infrastructure is intact. So it keeps tabs on many heart-beat signals it seems. UVB-76 might be one of them.

Moving a low traffic radio station with an interesting sound just because a bunch of HAM radio guys doesn't make sense. It has to have some higher function to warrant the move.

With the new over the horizon radar systems Russia is deploying, I guess that signals from these would be evaluated too.

Going in to wild speculation territory, Russia's in-house CPUs would fit the bill for these kind of systems nicely.


A cool alternative for getting into SDR without purchasing a real device is WebSDR, a webapp to tune and listen to SDR devices that some people have connected online, such as this one (beware, autoplays) [1].

Tune in to 4625 kHZ, and there it usually is, UVB-76, buzzing on all of its glory.

[1]: http://websdr.ewi.utwente.nl:8901/


The next step is installing Fldigi, routing the WebSDR browser audio into it and decoding various modulations.


Also, you can find a list of more public web sdrs at http://kiwisdr.com/public/


The story of Amateur Radio operators organising in order to clear their frequencies of the Soviet 'Woodpecker' (OTH RADAR System) always makes me smile: https://www.qsl.net/n1irz/woodpeck.html


More about the Duga radars. At least some of the antennas were located in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duga_radar


I appreciate that someone took the time to closed caption the audio recording of the woodpecker. But it's in Polish, so I can't understand it.


I'm learning Polish, where's the transcript?


If you’re interested in this topic, be sure to read (and listen to) The Conet Project. I have all the original CDs, although they are available as mp3s free online.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Conet_Project


Another recommendation is the The BBC Radio 4 Broadcast of "Tracking The Lincolnshire Poacher", which also includes a short interview with the creator of The Conet Project:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wvr6o7fBcTY


It's also on Spotify, perhaps surprisingly.


Cheers for the tip - that is some awesome background noise but occasionally fills me with dread and fear... Still listening though, amazing bit of history.


I believe it is just a channel marker. There is further information on this site: https://priyom.org/military-stations/russia/the-buzzer

They also tracked the signal using TDoA: https://priyom.org/blog/real-buzzer-site-found!


UVB-76/The Buzzer (4625Khz) LIVE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LegzZZRIqj4


Listening to The Buzzer and other number stations (especially The Conet Project recordings) for a long time send chills down my spine.


If you want to listen yourself, websdr, kiwisdr, sdrconsole and sdrsharp all provide some mechanism to listen to HF frequencies over the internet.


I'm curious if the spooks even bother with numbers station on radio any more, I commented on some reddit spam the other day that the string of words in the comment was so low-entropy it could literally have been used as a numbers station.

It's almost more suspicious to be listening to a radio at all these days, so unless you needed coverage of areas without internet access it would make sense to just dump the numbers onto a .onion or similar.


Some of the number stations also start to embed digital sub-bands to their normal voice transmissions. So, the communication can carry more data and carry it between autonomous systems now.

Also, while number stations broadcast over the air, the signal might not terminate at a radio receiver. It might be picked up by another system and forwarded in a different form.

A similar model is used by Chinese FireDrake jammer. There are numerous broadcast stations for FireDrake and all are fed by the same satellite radio channel (one of the audio channels of the minority radio stations) which play extremely high intensity chinese classical music which loops perfectly and lasts 60:00 minutes sharp.

When they spot a transmission they don't like, they tune the ground station to it and blast with the music. Intensity of the music drowns out the other transmission. Interesting stuff.

Also, low tech stuff is extremely resilient to outside effects. Modern IP telephony will collapse if something bad occurs. POTS, won't sneeze at it probably.


Hard to beat the resilience of analog radio in the event of a disaster, though. Reddit, not so much.


>I commented on some reddit spam the other day that the string of words in the comment was so low-entropy it could literally have been used as a numbers station

You should've seen Terry Davis...


The “buzzer log book” that urban explorers claimed to have found in the previous location is neat, but probably an intentional distraction or hoax.

http://www.numbers-stations.com/media/sample-uvb76-logbook.p...


Good ol' UVB-76. The Buzzer has been around for an age.

I got _very_ into number stations a few years ago. Still have a vague interest in them these days but there's not so much traffic now. Scared the crap out of myself when I first found them though!

There's all sorts of interesting/creepy stuff out there on the airwaves.



> A strange event occurred from 20:29 UTC to 21:33 UTC on the same day, slightly above the end of the buzzer's frequency, where there were transmissions that contained spectrogram imagery of animals, Pokémon characters, and SpongeBob characters, as well as some Latin and Cyrillic characters and phrases on the radio's waterfall. Other spectrogram imagery was also broadcast during the night and before the station stopped transmitting, indicated "73 de N." on the waterfall.


its ham radio, not HAM or an acronym darnit


The occurrence of images of Pokémon and Spongebob do sound out of character for the station -- is it plausible that someone with a very strong transmitter is toying with the operators?


it literally says so right on the page. i'm fairly certain the operators don't care what the spectrogram looks like.

as far as how powerful the transmitter was, obviously the rogue transmission would be stronger for those closest to it.


Every time I read about numbers stations and their cryptic message history I get reminded back to this intense creepy, spooky and shocked feeling I experienced at the end of the pilot episode of a very famous older show.


Please share!



wow that dead hand idea is wild... wonder if that's spoofable/jammed to what extent would they trust it before it actually launched missiles.


For the more "I don't believe most conspiracy theories but that's some coincidence" among us, I do find it extremely interesting there was a big uptick in voice chatter in October 2016.


Yes literally everything in Russia is related to trump. It’s well known that everyone in Russia and the rest of the world is obsessed with American elections and trump. It’s all anyone ever talks or thinks about. This station was started on 1973 when trump was a young man in America. Coincidence? I think not


Wikipedia article makes it clear was an uptick in observed/known voice chatter.

That the public might be likely to observe more thoroughly makes it less of a coincidence.


That was around the time russian consulates etc were being booted off and other political turmoil due to changes in the white house residents. Don’t need conspiracy theory to explain this


Would that really be a “conspiracy”?




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