“The Block Aircraft Registration Request [Barr] program doesn’t really provide privacy; it’s just a barrier,” Dustin Hoffman, president of Los Angeles-based IT engineering firm Exigent Systems, told AIN. Hoffman, who has a private pilot certificate and flies a piston single for his business, set out to prove his point at the Defcon 20 computer security conference earlier this month in Las Vegas.
For a presentation at the event, Hoffman and his associates spent about 80 man hours to develop OpenBARR.net, which uses open-source speech recognition software and live air traffic control communication feeds at LiveATC to identify the movements of aircraft, even those enrolled in Barr. Because Defcon 20 was held in Las Vegas, they focused only on identifying aircraft flying into or out of Las Vegas McCarran International and Henderson Executive Airports.
Hoffman and his crew had to “train” the software to be able to recognize tail numbers, but he said this wasn’t difficult. Once trained, the speech recognition software could properly detect N-numbers about 82 percent of the time. “But N-numbers are repeated often in transmissions, so even with the error rate we’re able to get all of them eventually,” Hoffman told AIN.
He has no further plans to expand OpenBARR.net, nor will the site continue to monitor traffic movements. “We were merely demonstrating that it could be done,” he said, “and to prove that Barr doesn’t really provide any privacy.”