This demo is a companion piece to our paper  presented at the 10th International Conference on Cyber Conflict (CyCon X). It shows the target airports of a large number of governments from around the world.
It has been known for several years now, that the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) technology allows anyone with a £10 software-defined radio (such as a cheap RTL-SDR dongle) to track the position of any ADS-B-equipped aircraft around the world. We want to stress that anyone can do this without much technical knowledge, there are many projects available such as dump1090, which are very accessible and popular with a large crowd of plane enthusiasts.
In combination with aircraft meta data freely available on the Internet, we argue that this sort of open-source intelligence (OSINT) leads to a shift in expectations for the operational privacy of governments around the world. While their movements are generally not a secret and often obtainable by other means (e.g., news reports), the automated and large-scale analysis of flight movements can unearth long-term relationships with destinations and countries.
As an illustrative example of the possibilities of modern aircraft tracking, above is the above Figure. It aggregates all observed non-European government aircraft visits at European airports from 1 January 2016 through 30 June 2017. The different colours indicate top origin region of the tracked aircraft.
The demo below covers all our collected government flight data from 1 July 2017 to 29 May 2018, you can visualise it by day or in aggregate, both on a map or in tabular form. The underlying data is provided by the OpenSky Network. The data primarily consists of sightings at airports on a given day (visualised as circles), where available it additionally shows the flight path between two airports, i.e. both origin and destination.
The full demo is also available over at Tableau Public.
As described in our paper, one can easily detect multilateral meetings using such data, for example on the 22nd of February 2018, when at least 16 government aircraft arrived in Brussels for the European Council's Informal meeting of the 27 heads of state or government the next day.
As you can observe clearly, there is currently no reasonable expectation of movement privacy even for relatively powerful government actors. ADS-B certainly has made the tracking of aircraft even easier, but other technologies from Mode S to ACARS also allow the simple tracking of aircraft, which is something we will cover in future posts.
 Utilizing Air Traffic Communications for OSINT on State and Government Aircraft
Martin Strohmeier, Matthew Smith, Daniel Moser, Matthias Schäfer‚ Vincent Lenders, and Ivan Martinovic
In Cyber Conflict (CYCON)‚ 2018 10th International Conference on. IEEE. May, 2018.
One popular question that we encounter regularly is whether air forces around the world use ADS-B on their aircraft. After all aircraft transponders are originally a military invention to identify friends from foes and the well-known benefits of ADS-B equipage in civil airspaces also apply to military aircraft. On the other hand, both cost and security reasons have been cited for not wanting to use ADS-B on sensitive aircraft. So, what is the deal right now, less than two years before the 2020 equipage deadline in Europe and the US?
In short, yes, air forces do use ADS-B, at least partially, but there are massive usage differences between countries.
This is from our recent paper at the 36th Digital Avionics Systems Conference . We collected ADS-B and Mode A/C/S data from over 6000 aircraft operated by militaries all over the world (with a strong focus on Europe/the US) using the The OpenSky Network. The key plot on how air forces around the world use ADS-B is the following:
As we can see, the military ADS-B adoption rate varies between around 10% in Israel to 90% in Saudi Arabia.
The same, a bit more detailed, for some selected countries:
Here, you see the share of aircraft which use Mode S only or additional technologies such as ACAS, or ADS-B, or all three.
Finally, we know that military aircraft can switch off ADS-B when they choose to. This happens regularly, some only really seem to use it en-route in “safe” airspaces but switch it off for their approach to make it ever so slightly harder to see where they land (well, not really but that’s a story for another blog post). But for that, and other information such as ADS-B equipage per aircraft type, you can read the full paper.
 Matthias Schäfer, Martin Strohmeier, Matthew Smith, Markus Fuchs, Vincent Lenders, Marc Liechti and Ivan Martinovic. OpenSky Report 2017: Mode S and ADS-B Usage of Military and other State Aircraft. In IEEE/AIAA 36th Digital Avionics Systems Conference. September 2017.
You can find all our publications on Aviation Security on our Publications page.