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Strange phone number: asks for Agent Code, gives encoded coordinates. (pastebin.com)
99 points by kateapalooza on Sept 12, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments

After reading some of the speculation about it in the online forums, I thought "Wouldn't it be fun to set up something like this as a prank?" It almost sounds like something Woz would be into...

Ha, I had the same thought - which makes me think that this is almost definitely a big prank that someone set up. Evidence:

- It was first posted on /b/

- Words like "TROOP" and "AGENT" are encoded in ASCII, and accessible by (nearly) any "passcode" that the user types in

and the dead giveaway in my mind:

- The "please stay on the line for the next available circuit" message played by the number was found to have been originally recorded by Time Warner Cable... No serious entity with any use for a numbers station would bother to steal a recorded message from a cable company.

So it's not real (duh :(). Part of me hopes it's an ARG, but in my heart of hearts, I know someone is just trolling /b/, albeit extremely masterfully.

also there is very little information given and that information isn't in a format that would be useful to its intended recipient. great, "AGENT" is at (x,y) and "AGENT" is at (a,b) and "AGENT" is at (c,d). but I want to talk to "AGENT SANDRA". !?!?!?! argh.

Could it be a multi-player Battleship-style game? A player enters his player ID ("agent number") to play. Once all of a player's assets have been destroyed it becomes "compromised".

It would be awesome and easy to set something like this up on twilio. I would have chosen a 702 area code though and when posting about it speculated that it had something to do with area 51. ;)

Or better yet, a VOIP provider that pays you for incoming calls.

The number seems to be owned by Level3, so its likely that its a VOIP line unless Level3 does regular phone circuits in the Denver area. (Source: http://www.telcodata.us/search-area-code-exchange-detail?npa...)

Just remember that there is a NSA location in Denver, Colorado.

Just about any major city will have an intelligence office of some kind.

I'm pretty sure the NSA has better ciphers for phones than poorly coded ASCII. Isn't there an art installation at the NSA that still hasn't been cracked after 20 years?

You're thinking of the Kryptos sculpture, which is at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kryptos); "of the four messages, three have been solved"; it was installed in November 1990, so it's been almost 22 years.

In my opinion, there's no way that this is an actual intelligence or military operated switch.

I'm not firm in this belief because of the open nature of a phone line like this (that part seems fine), but because there is no reason for a real switch to use actual terminology like "agent" and "compromised."

This reminds me a lot of a Capture the Flag contest: you know you're not really hacking an intelligence agency, but sometimes it's fun to pretend.

Oh, I don't know. Sometimes Capture the Flag gets to be a pretty big deal...


Sounds like an ARG. Reminds me of that "this is my milwaukee" thing.

Yeah, I'm definitely going to go with ARG. I would be beyond shocked if actual intelligence information were being transmitted over an unencrypted channel like this.

So I agree with you that's it's an ARG, but transmitting intelligence (or, more typically, instructions for agents) over unencrypted channels has been going on for years - the security of the channel itself is irrelevant if the data you're sending is only usable by the intended recipient.

This is how numbers stations work: you send alpha-numeric codes over shortwave, which assets in the field then decode using one time pads.

So generally speaking, transmitting intelligence over an unencrypted land-line wouldn't shock me in and of itself.

If you need an OTP to decode it, it's encrypted.

What is an ARG?

I want to believe this isn't a clever marketing scheme for a movie, or shiny gadget, or game.

There was a time in my long ago youth when some friends and I came by access to a voice mail host system.

We made use of many of the unused numbers, some as mysterious messages such at this, others for less cryptic but no less entertaining fake organizations. Then we'd place free ads in the various free weeklies that cover many cities and college towns with the phone numbers we'd set up.

Ah, the olden days. If we'd had the web, we'd have been real trouble.

seems like an awful lot of trouble just to change someone's voice mail message

Reminds me of war dialling UK 0800 numbers back in the 90's. There were some interesting ones out there (allegedly). I seem to remember, "Welcome to the NASA Employee hotline. Please enter your access code". Other ones that just gave cryptic greetings similar to this. Some that just repeated numbers over and over in a loop.

I hope a government or corporation would be smart enough not to use such a simplistic system to hide covert or confidential data. Then again most military drones were not encrypting their video feeds until rather recently, so who knows.

Intelligence agencies are adept at transmitting information in plain sight. I already mentioned numbers stations [1] in another comment, but they're a perfect example of how intelligence data is broadcast through a easily intercept-able channel but totally unusable to anyone except the recipient due to the use of a one-time pad. The only way you can stop them is to jam them, which is easier said than done.

Intelligence agencies use the simplest systems of transmitting data because they're proven to work. Dead drops are another great example of what on the surface seems horrifically insecure (you want me to leave my intelligence in a public place for anyone to find?) but that in practice work extremely well.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbers_station

Looking through and mapping the coordinates is very interesting. The ship groups are all in the bering sea and current OSI shows that no military trips are in transit of the straights.

Sounds like a viral marketing stunt or alternate reality game.

68 79 78 39 84 32 70 79 82 71 69 84 32 84 79 32 68 82 73 78 75 32 89 79 85 82 32 79 86 65 76 84 73 78 69

Here is the "official video."


Nice marketing idea if this got to be 3rd on HN, my guess is a movie, or a video game as well

Halo 4's coming out soon. I'm betting on ARG.

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