Sunday, 30 October 2011

FCC crackdown on RF jammers

I just read an article concerning the FCC cracking down on US websites selling RF jammers. This made me wonder whether the Wi-Fi-nerd-pleasing NutsAboutNets AirHORN jammer... ahem, signal generator, is affected. Well, from looking at the list of websites in the 'Citation and Order', the AirHORN is safe.

To be fair, whilst the AirHORN could be classed as a wideband jammer, it doesn't take out the whole 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz band at once. It therefore isn't the same as the traditional jammers that the FCC is targeting which are all-band jamming, affecting the entire 2.4 GHz band for example. When you use the AirHORN, you can see that it is a modulated 802.11 signal. It is really a glorified Wi-Fi client which is why you have to pick the 802.11 channel to start the signal generation or allow it to sweep through the channels. I can't help but think that the AirHORN is just using a modified version of the Queensland Attack. This shows that it really isn't intended for jamming and is meant to be used as a signal generator - therefore it wouldn't be affected by this FCC crackdown.

I have used the AirHORN during training to demonstrate spectrum analysis. It (should) also be useful for testing device classification in the big three Spectrum Analysers (Cisco SpectrumExpert, AirMagnet SpectrumXT and Metageek Channelyzer Pro). In addition, it (should) be useful for testing / demonstrating a high duty-cycle interferer in the new breed of AP-integrated spectrum analysis implementations (Cisco CleanAir, Aruba RFProtect, Aerohive Spectrum Analysis, Motorola AirDefense Spectrum Analysis, etc).

AirHORN aide, this citation from the FCC will have little effect on those in the US wishing to purchase all-band jammers because apparently you can now buy goods on-line... from overseas no less! What an age to be alive! Additionally, publicising this issue may well bring about the Streisand Effect. I am not advocating malicious use of a jammer however getting a hold of one will remain easy. Globalisation biting the US in the ass, yet again! One of the great ironies of those advocating, selling or actually using all-band jammers maliciously is their total ignorance as to their operation. Many people who would use these jammers would inflict more damage on their own Wi-Fi communications without realising it. From one of the sellers websites - "Place in your friends home as a prank or use it to secure you own Wi-Fi.". Well I guess if even you can't access your Wi-Fi, it could be deemed secure!

If the goverment can't help me, who can?
So if the FCC crackdown has little effect in helping reduce the market for jammers what are your options? The key for those operating Wi-Fi networks is to have the right tools on hand to address the issue - namely, a Spectrum Analyser. Metageek has made this particularly easy in recent years with their affordable analysers as have Wi-Fi vendors rolling out their AP-integrated offerings. Also, this is yet another reason to purchase 5 GHz capable Wi-Fi clients, where possible. The vast majority of all-band jammers transmit at 2.4 GHz as do the majority of other high duty cycle transmitters (baby monitors, A/V transmitters, wireless video cameras, etc). Whilst 5 GHz all-band jammers exist, they are few and far between and no where near as cheap.

EOF.... almost
As for the FCC crack-down, the Streisand Effect has worked and reminded me that I have been meaning to buy a cheap all-band jammer for (isolated) demonstrations and spectrum analysis testing. I've thrown an analogue video camera and A/V transmitter into the cart for good measure. Thank you FCC!

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