Superconference Interview: Samy Kamkar

Samy Kamkar has an incredible arsenal of self-taught skills that have grown into a remarkable career as a security researcher. He dropped out of high school to found a company based on Open Source Software and became infamous for releasing the Samy worm on the MySpace platform. But in our minds Samy has far outpaced that notoriety with the hardware-based security exploits he’s uncovered over the last decade. And he’s got a great gift for explaining these hacks — from his credit card magstripe spoofing experiments to hacking keyless entry systems and garage door opener remotes — in great depth during his talk at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference.

We pulled Samy aside after his talk to discuss how the security scene has grown up over the years and asked him to share his advice for people just coming up now. We’re happy to publish it for the first time today, it can be seen below.

Now it’s your turn. The Call for Proposals is now open for the 2017 Hackaday Superconference. You don’t need to be Samy Kamkar to qualify for a talk. You just need an interesting story of hardware engineering, creativity in technical design, an adventure with product design, or a sordid tale of your prototyping experiences. We hope everyone with a story will submit their proposal, but for those who don’t tickets are now available. The Hackaday Superconference will take place in Pasadena, California on November 11th and 12th.

Sunday: Breakfast at DEF CON

Nurse your hangover by having Breakfast at DEF CON with Hackaday this Sunday. You’re invited to our yearly ritual by marking the beginning of the end with coffee and pastries at 10:30 am.

Choosing an exact location in advance is always tricky (anyone who’s been to DEF CON understands). We’ll pick a place once we hit town later this week. For now, head over to the Breakfast at DEF CON event page and hit the “join the team” button on the bottom left so we can let you know when we’ve found the perfect location for the breakfast meetup.

Extra internet points go to those who bring some hardware to show off… and especially for anyone who is making this the end of their Saturday rather than the beginning of Sunday. [Brian] and [Mike] will be there, joined by our friends [Jasmine] and [Shulie] who are on the scene for Tindie, a sponsor of the IoT Village this year. See you on Sunday!

Hologram.io Offers Developers Free Cell Data

If you’ve been thinking of adding cellular connectivity to a build, here’s a way to try out a new service for free. Hologram.io has just announced a Developer Plan that will give you 1 megabyte of cellular data per month. The company also offers hardware to use with the SIM, but they bill themselves as hardware agnostic. Hologram is about providing a SIM card and the API necessary to use it with the hardware of your choice: any 2G, 3G, 4G, or LTE devices will work with the service.

At 1 MB/month it’s obvious that this is aimed at the burgeoning ranks of Internet of Things developers. If you’re sipping data from a sensor and phoning it home, this will connect you in 200 countries over about 600 networks. We tried to nail them down on exactly which networks but they didn’t take the bait. Apparently any major network in the US should be available through the plan. And they’ve assured us that since this program is aimed at developers, they’re more than happy to field your questions as to which areas you will have service for your specific application.

The catch? The first taste is always free. For additional SIM cards, you’ll have to pay their normal rates. But it’s hard to argue with one free megabyte of cell data every month.

Hologram originally started with a successful Kickstarter campaign under the name Konekt Dash but has since been rebranded while sticking to their cellular-connectivity mission. We always like getting free stuff — like the developer program announced today — but it’s also interesting to see that Hologram is keeping up with the times and has LTE networks available in their service, for which you’ll need an LTE radio of course.

Hackaday’s Assistive Technology Challenge Begins Now

This morning marks a new challenge in the Hackaday Prize: we want to see what you can do with Assistive Technology. Twenty entries will win $1000 each, becoming part of the final round for a chance at the top prizes ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.

Assistive Technology means things that help people by improving their quality of life. This can take so many forms but broadly speaking this could make aging easier, turn disabilities into abilities, or enhance the access and delivery of health care.

We’ve seen great things in this area from the Hackaday community. The Grand Prize for the 2015 Hackaday Prize went to an assistive technology that linked motorized wheelchairs to gaze-controlled computers, called Eyedrivomatic. And at the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference we learned how common tools and crowd sourced skills can lead to a new take on physical rehabilitation with a robot-assisted elbow.

The Hackaday Prize challenges us all to Build Something that Matters. It’s hard to argue that there is a better place to take on this challenge than with Assistive Technologies. Enter your project today!

Hackaday Eclipse Meetups

Hackaday is all over this eclipse. There are thousands of members of the Hackaday community headed to a narrow swath of the United States on August 21st to revel in an incredibly rare, scientifically predictable life experience: a total eclipse of the sun.

Do not do it in solitude, get together and celebrate! Check out the Hackaday Eclipse Meetups page which shows where meetups are happening. And adding your own is simple. It’s a great day to meet up with other Hackaday readers and celebrate the day that the moon passed perfectly between you and the sun.

You can’t just stare directly at the sun, you need some eclipse glasses. We’re printing up some in black, adorned with the Jolly Wrencher and sending them out to all organized meetups, so get your event page up today and you’re on the list for a little bit of sweet swag. Look for the button on the Eclipse page that says “Host a meetup”.

I’m Too Cool to Watch an Eclipse

If you don’t get what all the hubbub is, you’re missing out. A total eclipse of the sun is an amazing life experience in so many ways. First off, they’re incredibly rare. There hasn’t been a total eclipse visible in the continental United States since 1979. The majority of the North American readership hasn’t even had the chance to see one in their lifetimes.

This eclipse shadow visualization is incredible. See the entire transit and learn how they produced this from available data

But of course it goes beyond the value of mere scarcity. Being able to understand, and predict an eclipse conveys a great deal about the progress of humanity. For millennia, a solar eclipse was a shocking (perhaps horrifying) experience. But through the scientific process of observation, the advances of record keeping, and the work of untold numbers of early astronomers we learned. Solar and Lunar eclipses were events that challenged thinking and became some of the earliest scientific discoveries.

This type of advancement hasn’t stopped. Even this year the application of the newest technology is present. Just one example that will turn your head is the shadow simulation that we saw in January. The moon isn’t a perfect sphere, and the combination of its landscape and that of the Earth means the outer fringes of totality will not be straight lines, but an undulating path. It’s a small detail realized in a profound way by a citizen scientist so that we may all enjoy it. Isn’t being alive now absolutely stunning?

Boil it Down for Me

So no, watching a rock cast a shadow won’t blow your mind. But understanding that the movement of this shadow isn’t random, that we didn’t always understand it, and that there are huge forces at work here will humble your modern brain and leave you awestruck. It’s a rare chance to observe with your own senses the evidence of huge masses governed by gigantic gravitational forces at incomprehensible distances through the simple act of a shadow racing across the landscape.

Be there, and make it a celebration of science, humanity, and your own life experience. Share your eclipse meetup now!

Books You Should Read: The Idea Factory

You’ve heard of Bell Labs, but likely you can’t go far beyond naming the most well-known of discoveries from the Lab: the invention of the transistor. It’s a remarkable accomplishment of technological research, the electronic switch on which all of our modern digital society has been built. But the Bell Labs story goes so far beyond that singular discovery. In fact, the development of the transistor is a microcosm of the Labs themselves.

The pursuit of pure science laid the foundation for great discovery. Yes, the transistor was conceived, prototyped, proven, and then reliably manufactured at the Labs. But the framework that made this possible was the material researchers and prototyping ninjas who bridged the gap between the theory and the physical. The technology was built on what is now a common material; semiconducting substances which would not have been possible without the Labs refinement of the process for developing perfectly pure substances reliably doped to produce the n-type and p-type substances that made diode and transistor possible.

Continue reading “Books You Should Read: The Idea Factory”

Badge from Diamond Age Comes to DEF CON

We’re huge fans of [Neal Stephenson’s] work and are usually looking to assign some of his vision to the gear that pops up in the real world. But there’s no stretching or squinting necessary with this one. [Kerry Scharfglass] has built a functioning Drummer’s Badge from the foundational Sci-Fi novel The Diamond Age.

The badge is called Sympetrum, which is a genus of dragonfly. In explaining what the badge is and does, [Kerry] instructs you to go and read the book first and we couldn’t agree more. This isn’t recommended reading; if you’re a geek you need to read this book.

The dragonfly badges are from a portion of the book that gets pretty weird, but the gist is that rod-logic (machines build from microscopic carbon nanotubes) is so pervasive that at all times you’re covered in mites that are actually machines. At a party, one of the characters notices everyone is wearing dragonfly pins that begin to pulse with the music and synchronize with each other. They’re actually indicators of what the mites within the wearers’ bodies are doing — synchronizing people with other people.

This badge is a working recreation of that, presumably without the billions of mites controlling people (but who knows, it is DEF CON). At the center of the badge is an STM32 driving ten APA102 modules. Interactivity is based on IR signaling. The badge will cycle random color animations when alone. But each badge also projects clock sync and metadata over infrared, so put some of them in the same room and they’ll tend to synchronize.

Simple, beautiful, and a great geeky backstory. This example of Badgelife proves that hardware badges don’t need to be packed with features, or have a huge BOM cost. If done well, you can do an awful lot with just a little hardware and strong dose of inspiration. It also makes hand-assembly a lot more approachable, which is what you can see in the images above. Thanks [Kerry] for giving us an early look at this badge, can’t wait to see them at the CON.


We’ll be looking for this and all other #Badgelife offerings at DEF CON 25. Join us for a Hackaday meetup on Sunday morning as we once again do Breakfast at DEF CON