Bunnie and Snowden Explore iPhone’s Hackability

[Bunnie Huang] and [Edward Snowden] have teamed up to publish a paper exploring the possibility of introspection on the iPhone.

A rendering of the proposed introspection device attached to an iPhone6
A rendering of the proposed introspection device attached to an iPhone6

The idea is that phones are increasingly complex and potentially vulnerable to all kinds of digital surveillance. Even airplane mode is insufficient for knowing that your phone isn’t somehow transmitting information. The paper looks at the various radios on the iPhone, going so far as opening up the device and reading signals at each of the chips for cell, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and NFC to determine whether the chip itself is doing anything, regardless of what the screen says. This introspection can then be used to be confident that the phone is not communicating when it shouldn’t be.

The paper goes on to propose a device that they will prototype in the coming year which uses an FPC that goes into the phone through the SIM card port. It would contain a battery, display, buttons, multiple SIM cards, and an FPGA to monitor the various buses and chips and report on activity.

Significant hacking of an iPhone will still be required, but the idea is to increase transparency and be certain that your device is only doing what you want it to.

Bunnie and EFF Sue US Government over DMCA 1201

This morning Bunnie Huang wrote about his reasons for suing the US Government over Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The DMCA was enacted in 1996 and put in place far-reaching protections for copyright owners. Many, myself included, think these protections became far-overreaching. The DMCA, specifically section 1201 of the act which is known as the anti-circumvention provision, prohibits any action that goes around mechanisms designed to protect copyrighted material. So much has changed since ’96 — software is now in every device and that means section 1201 extends to almost all electronics sold today.

So protecting copyright is good, right? If that were the only way section 1201 was enforced that might be true. But common sense seems to have gone out the window on this one.

If you legally purchase media which is protected with DRM it is illegal for you to change the format of that media. Ripping your DVD to a digital file to view on your phone while on the plane (something usually seen as fair use) is a violation. Want to build an add-on for you home automation system but need to reverse engineer the communications protocol first? That’s a violation. Perhaps the most alarming violation: if you discover a security vulnerability in an existing system and report it, you can be sued under DMCA 1201 for doing so.

Cory Doctorow gave a great talk at DEF CON last year about the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s renewed push against DMCA 1201. The EFF is backing Bunnie on this lawsuit. Their tack argues both that section 1201 is stiffling innovation and discouraging meaningful security research.

If it’s illegal to write about, talk about, or even privately explore how electronics are built (and the ecosystem that lets them function) it’s hard to really master creating new technology. A successful lawsuit must show harm. Bunnie’s company, Alphamax LLC, is developing hardware that can add an overlay to an HDMI signal (which sounds like the continuation of the hack we saw from him a few years ago). But HDCP would prevent this.

Innovation aside, the security research angle is a huge reason for this law (or the enforcement of it) to change. The other plaintiff named in the suit, Matthew Green, had to seek an exemption from the DMCA in order to conduct his research without fear of prosecution. Currently there is a huge disincentive to report or even look for security vulnerabilities, and that is a disservice to all. Beneficial security research and responsible disclosure need to be the top priority in our society which is now totally dependent on an electronically augmented lifestyle.

Extremely Thorough Formlabs Form 2 Teardown by Bunnie

[Bunnie Huang] recently had the opportunity to do a thorough teardown of the new Formlabs Form 2 printer. It’s a long read, so just head over there and immerse yourself in every detail. If you want the cliff notes, though, read this but still go look at all the pretty pictures.

First, it’s a major upgrade with pretty much every component. The CPU is a huge step up, the interface went from monochrome to full color touch screen, the connectivity has been upgraded with WiFi and Ethernet, the optics are much better and safer, the power supply is integrated, there are lots of little improvements that handle things like bed leveling, calibration, resin stirring, pausing jobs, and resin refilling during a print. Bunnie practically gushes at all the features and impressive engineering that went into the Form 2.

You can compare the teardown of the Form 2 to [Bunnie’s] teardown of the Form 1 printer back in 2013.

Bunnie’s Guide to Shenzhen Electronics

[Bunnie Huang] is now officially the person who wrote the book on electronics manufacturing in Shenzhen, China. His Crowd Supply campaign for The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen has blown way past the initial goal. [Bunnie] is the first person who comes to mind for anyone needing help getting their electronics built in the region.

The books is meant as a travel companion. Hackaday was in China last June and toured the markets of Hua Qiang Bei. They are incredibly overwhelming, but people are very nice, willing to help, and none of them speak English. [Bunnie’s] approach is pages with squares you can point to in order to express your meaning. Standing at the capacitor stall? There’s a page for that. Gawking at a booth packed full of LEDs and need them in reels instead of tape? That’s in the book too. Even better, this isn’t a one-way thing. You should be able to understand well enough what they vendor is trying to convey as they point at the pages to answer your questions. This is certainly better than our method of trying to find pictures of addresses and Chinese characters on our phones. Everything is at the ready.

It doesn’t end there. The images of the book’s table of contents shows that you’ll get help with getting into the country, getting around once you’re there, and making the deal when you do find what you need. If you’re ever going to make the trip to Shenzhen, this is the first thing you should put in your backpack.

Since you’re already in the mood to purchase something made of paper, we think you’ll be interested you in this gorgeous Hackaday Omnibus Vol 02. It’s 128 pages of the best original content published on Hackaday over the past year, including the stunning artwork of Joe Kim.

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Deployable by Design With Bunnie Huang, Nadya Peek, and Joi Ito

We follow [bunnie]’s blog as he posts interesting and usable information quite regularly. [bunnie] posted about a video of a recent talk he did at MIT Media Lab with Nadya Peek and Joi Ito. This was in lieu of his monthly “name that ware” competition, which is worth looking into as well.

The talk is focused on small volume manufacturing and the experiences that the speakers have under their collective belt is large enough that the conversation takes a turn from how to do things in practice, to the theory and technique of manufacturing on a philosophical level.

[bunnie] prefaces the conversation with an explanation of some of the design and manufacturing processes involved when working on the circuit stickers project. He talks about the importance of testing the product and the complex test jig that is required to quality check a simple (in comparison to the test jig) product. [bunnie] shares an overview of the project timeline and where some extended design stages might be found in unexpected places.

The design and manufacturing process is discussed on many levels throughout the talk. Among the points that are insightful, we certainly found ourselves a little jelly of all the time [bunnie] gets to spend in Shenzhen.

If you’re not familiar with [bunnie]’s blog you can check it out at www.bunniestudios.com. Pro Tip: you can spend the better part of your workday browsing topics in the sidebar on the right.

We have covered the MIT Media Lab before, including a trip to Shenzhen that is discussed in the Media Lab talk by [Joi] and [bunnie]. Another interesting interview at SXSW earlier this year by [Sophi Kravitz] who spoke with [Sunanda Sharma] about mediated matter.

[Bunnie Huang’s] Hardware Talks Top Your Watch List

When [Bunnie] talks, we listen. He is a fount of product engineering knowledge, having seen many of his own products through from concept to market, and frequently helping others do the same. Of course having the knowledge is one thing, but he is also an accomplished speaker who knows what is important and how to share it in a way which is meaningful to others. The latest example of this is a pair of Engineering Talks he gave at Highway 1.

It’ll take you less than twenty minutes to get through the two videos. The first focuses on documentation for manufacturing. What do you need to include on a bill of materials sent to the factory? [Bunnie] has a set of gotchas which illustrate how vital this is. He also discusses how to handle design changes once the manufacturing wheels are already in motion. The second clip covers how Design for Manufacture relates to the actual cost of a production run. We hope there are more of these clips in the publishing pipeline so we’re keeping our eye on this channel.

The two videos are embedded below and at the time of writing had just a couple dozen views each and only one comment between the two of them. It seems sacrilege to say this, but we agree with that YouTube comment; these videos are gold.

Want to check out one of [Bunnie’s] latest projects? It’s a radio-based interactive badge.

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Judge Spotlight: Andrew “Bunnie” Huang


This week’s Judge Spotlight focuses on [Andrew “Bunnie” Huang]. If you haven’t heard of him you need to pay more attention. His hacker cred goes way back to the original Xbox, which he reverse engineered and laid bare its security flaws. Maintaining his hacker spirit he went on to design and hack the Chumby. More recently he took on the challenge of developing and Open laptop called Novena. All of this while continuing to explore and experiment with all kinds of electronics, posting about his adventures for those of us that care about an electronics ecosystem that doesn’t shut out the user from tinkering with the hardware. Join us after the break for our conversation with The Hackaday Prize judge [Bunnie Huang].

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