Physical Security for Desktop Computers

There’s a truism in the security circles that says physical security is security. It doesn’t matter how many bits you’ve encrypted your password with, which elliptic curve you’ve used in your algorithm, or if you use a fingerprint, retina scan, or face print for a second factor of authentication. If someone has physical access to a device, all these protections are just road bumps in the way of getting your data. Physical access to a machine means all that data is out in the open, and until now there’s nothing you could do to stop it.

This week at Black Hat Europe, Design-Shift introduced ORWL, a computer that provides the physical security to all the data sitting on your computer.

The first line of protection for the data stuffed into the ORWL is unique key fob radio. This electronic key fob is simply a means of authentication for the ORWL – without it, ORWL simply stays in its sleep mode. If the user walks away from the computer, the USB ports are shut down, and the HDMI output is disabled. While this isn’t a revolutionary feature – something like this can be installed on any computer – that’s not the biggest trick ORWL has up its sleeve.

ORWL2The big draw to the ORWL is a ‘honeycomb mesh’ that completely covers every square inch of circuit board. This honeycomb mesh is simply a bit of plastic that screws on to the ORWL PCB and connects dozens of electronic traces embedded in this board to a secure microcontroller. If these traces are broken – either through taking the honeycomb shell off or by breaking it wide open, the digital keys that unlock the computer are erased.

The ORWL specs are what you would expect from a bare-bones desktop computer: Intel Skylake mobile processors, Intel graphics, a choice of 4 or 8GB of RAM, 64 to 512GB SSD. WiFi, two USB C ports, and an HDMI port provide all the connections to the outside world.

While this isn’t a computer for everyone, and it may not even a very large deployment, it is an interesting challenge. Physical security rules over all, and it would be very interesting to see what sort of attack can be performed on the ORWL to extract all the data hidden away behind an electronic mesh. Short of breaking the digital key hidden on a key fob, the best attack might just be desoldering the chips for the SSD and transplanting them into a platform more amenable to reading them.

In any event, ORWL is an interesting device if only for being one of the few desktop computers to tackle the problem of physical security. As with any computer, if you have physical access to a device, you have access to all the data on the device; we just don’t know how to get the data off one of these tiny computers.

Video below.

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Frank Makes A CNC Table

[Frank Howarth] is one of the big guns when it comes to woodworking on YouTube, and now he’s doing something completely unlike his other builds. He’s building a gigantic CNC machine. Yes, we’ve seen dozens of CNC router builds, but this one adds a few nifty features we’ve never seen before.

The plans for [Frank]’s CNC machine call for a 4 foot by 8 foot table, over which a router on a gantry gnaws away at wood. This is the standard size for shop-sized CNC router, but [Frank] is adding in his own twist: he’s building a 12 foot long table, by way of a four foot extension. This one small addition allows [Frank] to put tenons in tree trunks, engravings on the side of furniture, or just to make one part of a very large piece flat.

Right now, the build is just about the base, constructed out of 2″ square steel tube. While the welding is by all accounts an amateur job, everything is square, straight, and true. Now, with a metal base scooting around on hockey puck feet, [Frank] is ready to start on the robotic part of the build, something we’re all interested to see.

It’s going to be really big, but still not the biggest.

Raspberry Pi-Powered Back To The Future Time Circuits

Here’s something that’s a little late to celebrate the fact that all the events in Back to the Future have happened in the past, but that’s what time machines are for, right? [Deater] created Pi-powered time circuits and a flux capacitor. He might not have a DeLorean, but he does have the equipment to turn a DeLorean into a cool car.

The ‘time circuits’ shown on-screen in Back to the Future actually weren’t very complex; the times were just cutouts with lights and gels; no real electronics wizardry necessary. Of course the BttF DeLorean has since been remodeled and refurbished with time circuits that look and act the part, and [Deater]’s time circuits have everything you would expect: a display of the destination, current, and last time, sound effects, numeric keypad, flux capacitor, and a speedometer.

While it doesn’t simulate the time circuits from the movie exactly, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The movie time circuits were colored gels, and wouldn’t exactly be practical for a Raspberry Pi-based prop. It’s a great build, and one that would look great in either a ’98 Nissan Altima or a DeLorean

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Nvidia Brings Computer Vision and Deep Learning to the Embedded World

Today, Nvidia announced their latest platform for advanced technology in autonomous machines. They’re calling it the Jetson TX1, and it puts modern GPU hardware in a small and power efficient module. Why would anyone want GPUs in an embedded format? It’s not about frames per second; instead, Nvidia is focusing on high performance computing tasks – specifically computer vision and classification – in a platform that uses under 10 Watts.

For the last several years, tiny credit card sized ARM computers have flooded the market. While these Raspberry Pis, BeagleBones, and router-based dev boards are great for running Linux, they’re not exactly very powerful.  x86 boards also exist, but again, these are lowly Atoms and other Intel embedded processors. These aren’t the boards you want for computationally heavy tasks. There simply aren’t many options out there for high performance computing on low-power hardware.

The Jetson TX1 and Developer Kit. Image Credit: Nvidia

Tiny ARM computers the size of a credit card have served us all well for general computing tasks, and this leads to the obvious question – what is the purpose of putting so much horsepower on such a small board. The answer, at least according to Nvidia, is drones, autonomous vehicles, and image classification.

Image classification is one of the most computationally intense tasks out there, but for autonomous robots, there’s no other way to tell the difference between a cyclist and a mailbox. To do this on an embedded platform, you either need to bring a powerful general purpose CPU that sucks down 60 or so Watts, or build a smaller, more efficient GPU-based solution that sips a meager 10 Watts.

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Replacing the CRT in a Vectrex

The Vectrex is a rare beast in the world of retro video games. Introduced in 1982, this was the only video game system to put a monitor right in the console, and it did so for good reason. This was a games system with vector graphics and rotating 3D objects, something that just couldn’t happen on the TV in the family room. A while ago, [John] dug his old Vectrex out of his basement and replaced a faulty logic board. The CRT was still broken, but with a little bit of research and a not-so-ugly kludge, he managed to replace the CRT in a Vectrex.

[John] found someone willing to part with an old CRT online, and after whipping out his credit card, the tube was on his way to his front door. This new tube wasn’t a direct drop in; The original Vectrex had small ears around the edges of the screen that served as mounting points. The new tube had no such ears. Now, a bit of plastic strapping holds the CRT in the chassis. It’s a bit of a kludge, but at least now [John] has a source of Vectrex CRTs.

While the rest of [John]’s repair work didn’t go as well – the Vectrex in question still has all the logic board problems it had when it was taken out of storage. This Vectrex does have a new CRT, and with a bit more work on rehabbing this old machine, it should keep on working for another thirty years.

Whenever you come cross an interesting CRT, make sure you snatch it up. Here’s another offering that uses a tiny screen for some classic MAME action.

The Most Powerful DIY Railgun

The US Navy is working on a few railgun projects that will eventually replace the largest guns on the fleet’s cruisers and destroyers. These rail guns will fire a projectile away from the ship at around Mach 7 on a ballistic trajectory to a target one hundred miles away. It’s an even more impressive piece of artillery than a gun with a nuclear warhead, and someday, it will be real.

most-powerful-non-military-railgunUntil then, we’ll have to settle with [Zebralemur]’s DIY mobile railgun. He built this railgun capable of firing aluminum projectiles through pumpkins, cellphones, and into car doors and blocks of ballistics gelatin.

All rail guns need a place to store energy, and in all cases this is a gigantic bank of capacitors. For this project, [Zebralemur] is using fifty-six, 400 Volt, 6000 microfarad caps. The MSRP for these caps would be about $50,000 total, but somehow – probably a surplus store – [Zebralemur] picked them up for $2,400.

These caps are just the power supply for the rail gun, and aren’t part of the structure of this already large, 250 pound gun. Luckily, with the seats down in [Zebralemur]’s car, they fit in the back of his hatchback.

These caps are charged by a bunch of 9V batteries stuck end to end. When the caps are charged, all the power is dumped into two copper bars in the gun, accelerating the aluminum projectile to speeds fast enough to kill. It’s an incredible build, but something that should not be attempted by anyone. Although this does seem to be the year that all danger seekers are busting out their electromagnetic projection flingers.

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A Square Inch of Nyan

Over on, there’s an unofficial contest to cram as much electronics and awesome as possible into a single square inch of PCB. While the measurement system is logical, the Internet is not: it feeds on cats and is entertained by rainbows. [Radomir]’s project feeds into this bizarre fixation with the Nyan Board, a Pop Tart cat that poops rainbows, all the while playing bleeps and boops that would fit well in a Nintendo game.

[Radomir] built this square inch of twee for the square inch project, an unofficial contest to fit the coolest project on a 1×1 inch square PCB. Prizes are credits for the Hackaday Store and OSHPark. This entry uses an ATtiny85 microcontroller, a few resistors, LEDs,  and a buzzer to play the strange, syncopated Nyan theme song. Power is delivered over a colorful ribbon cable that emulates the rainbow tail of the Pop Tart cat.

This isn’t the only project in the Square Inch Project, or even the most blinky; there’s also a RRROYYYYgYgGGBgBPW LED, a square inch quadcopter, and a device that detects the world’s smallest bat. All very interesting projects, and we can’t wait to see all the entries finished.

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