CAN Hacking: The Hardware

So far we have discussed the basics of CAN, in-vehicle networks, and protocols used over CAN. We’re going to wrap up with a discussion of CAN tools, and parts to build your own CAN hardware.


Unfortunately, there’s no set standard for CAN connections. The most common connector for high-speed CAN is a DE-9, with CAN high on pin 7 and CAN low on pin 2. However cables will differ, and many are incompatible.

CAN needs to be terminated, preferably by a 120 ohm resistance on either end of the bus. In practice, you can stick a single 120 ohm resistor across the bus to deal with termination.


A good CAN tool will let you transmit and receive CAN messages, interpret live data using CAN databases, and talk CAN protocols. The tools with this feature set are proprietary and expensive, but some hacker friendly options exist.


The GoodThopter12

Based on [Travis Goodspeed’s] GoodFET, the GoodThopter by [Q] uses the Microchip MCP2515 CAN to SPI controller to access the bus. The open hardware tool lets you send and receive messages using Python scripts.

CAN Bus Triple

CAN Bus Triple

The CAN Bus Triple device provides an interface to three CAN buses, and can be programmed in an environment similar to Arduino. The open source code provided lets you muck with the second generation Mazda 3. Unfortunately, the hardware does not appear to be open source.

Saleae Logic

Saleae Logic

It’s not open source, but the Saleae Logic is a very handy and cheap tool for looking at CAN buses. It can capture, decode, and display CAN traffic. This is most useful when you’re building your own CAN hardware.


The Parts

If you want to design your own hardware for CAN, you’ll need two things: a CAN controller, and a CAN transceiver.

The CAN controller generates and interprets CAN messages. There’s many microcontrollers on the market with built-in CAN controllers, such as the Atmel ATmega32M1, Freescale S08D, and the TI Tiva C Series. When using a built-in CAN controller, you’ll have to use an external oscillator, internal oscillators are not sufficiently accurate for high-speed CAN. If you want to add CAN to an existing microcontroller, the MCP2515 is an option. It’s a standalone CAN controller that communicates over SPI.

The transceiver translates signals from the controller to the bus, and from the bus to the transceiver. Different transceivers are needed for high-speed and low-speed CAN networks. The NXP TJA1050 works with high-speed buses, and the ON Semi NCV7356 works with low-speed, single wire buses.

Dev Boards

There’s a ton of development boards out there featuring microcontrollers with a CAN controller. The Arduino Due‘s SAM3 processor has a controller, but there’s no transceiver on the board. You can pick up a CAN bus shield, and the Due CAN Library to get started.

The ChipKIT Max32 is similar to the Due. It has two CAN controllers, but you’ll need to provide external transceivers to actually get on a bus. Fortunately there’s a shield for that. The ChipKIT is officially supported by Ford’s OpenXC Platform, so you can grab their firmware.

That concludes our discussion of CAN Hacking. Hopefully you’re now ready to go out and experiment with the protocol. If you have questions, send them along to our tip line with “CAN Hacking” in the subject, and we’ll compile some answers. If you liked this series and want to suggest a topic for the next set of posts we’d love to hear that as well!

CAN Hacking

CAN Hacking: Protocols


We’ve gone over the basics of CAN and looked into how CAN databases work. Now we will look at a few protocols that are commonly used over CAN.

In the last article we looked at CAN databases, where each bit of a message is mapped to a specific meaning. For example, bit 1 of a CAN message with ID 0x400 might represent whether the engine is currently running or not.

However, for more complex communications we need to use protocols. These can map many meanings to a single CAN ID by agreeing on a structure for sending and receiving data.

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CAN Hacking: The In-vehicle Network

Last time, we discussed how in-vehicle networks work over CAN. Now we’ll look into the protocol and how it’s used in the automotive industry.

The Bus

On the hardware side, there’s two types of CAN: differential (or high-speed) and single wire. Differential uses two wires and can operate up to 1 Mbps. Single wire runs on a single wire, and at lower speeds, but is cheaper to implement. Differential is used in more critical applications, such as engine control, and single wire is used for less important things, such as HVAC and window control.

Many controllers can connect to the same bus in a multi-master configuration. All messages are broadcast to every controller on the bus.

An oversimplified in-vehicle network
An oversimplified in-vehicle network

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CAN Hacking: Introductions

We’re introducing a new series on CAN and automotive hacking. First, we’ll introduce CAN and discuss how in-vehicle networks work.

In 1986, Bosch introduced the Controller Area Network protocol. It was designed specifically for in-vehicle networks between automotive controllers. CAN became a popular option for networking controllers in automotive, industrial, and robotics applications. Starting in 2008, all vehicles sold in the US must use CAN.

Modern vehicles are distributed control systems, with controllers designed to handle specific tasks. For example, a door control module would take care of locks and windows. CAN allows these controllers to communicate. It also allows for external systems to perform diagnostic tasks by connecting to the in-vehicle network.

Some examples of CAN communication in a vehicle include:

  • The engine control module sending the current engine speed to the instrument cluster, where it is displayed on a tachometer.
  • The driver’s door controller sending a message to another door controller to actuate the window.
  • A firmware upgrade for a controller, sent from a diagnostics tool.

CAN is usually used with little or no security, except for the obscurity of the communications. We can use CAN to USB interfaces to listen to the traffic, and then decode it. We can also use these tools to send forged messages, or to perform diagnostic actions. Unfortunately, most of the tools for dealing with CAN are proprietary, and very expensive. The diagnostics protocols are standards, but not open ones. They must be purchased from the International Organization for Standardization.

Next time, we’ll get into the structure of CAN frames, and how traffic is encoded on the bus.

 [Image via Wikipedia]

CAN Hacking

More Drive Bays, Cooling, and Power for a DIY Raid Box

We’ve actually been on the look-out for a Network Attached Storage solution for home use. We want an embedded option just for power saving, but have you seen what a commercially available embedded RAID systems costs? It might be better to find an energy friendly PSU and use it in a PC case RAID conversion like this one that [Samimy] pulled off. He started with an old computer case and modded it to house more hard drives.

The image above shows his mounting scheme. Most of us have defunct optical drives in the junk bin. Many times they end up as a way to play with CNC, but in this case [Samimy] got rid of the guts and used a couple of angle brackets to mount a hard disk inside of the enclosure. Now that he can bolt more drives to the case he needed to power them, as the PSU didn’t have enough SATA power connectors. He clipped off a daisy-chain of connectors from a broken supply and spliced it into this one. Finally he cut a hole in the top of the case to add a bit more cooling to the system.

He’s using Windows 7 to power a RAID0 and RAID1 array using four drives. To help increase performance of the system he also used USB thumb drives as cache. This is something we’re not familiar with and we’re glad he provided a link to ReadyBoost, the software which makes it possible.

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Reverse Engineering a D-Link Backdoor

Here’s one true hack (Google cache link) for our dear Hackaday readers. On a Saturday night, as [Craig] didn’t have anything else to do, he decided to download the firmware of an old D-Link DIR-100 router (because who wouldn’t?). His goal was to see what interesting things he could find in it. He fired up binwalk to extract the SquashFS file system, then opened the router webserver on the multi-processor disassembler/debugger IDA. [Craig] discovered that the webserver is actually a modified version of thttpd, providing the administrative interface for the router. As you can see in the picture above, it seems Alphanetworks (a spin-off of D-Link) performed the modifications.

Luckily for [Craig], the guys at Alphanetworks were kind enough to prepend many of their custom function names with the string “alpha”. Looking at the disassembly of the http identification functions revealed that a backdoor is implemented on the firmware. If one malicious user has the string “xmlset_roodkcableoj28840ybtide” as his browser user agent, no authentication is required to gain access to the router. One of the comments on the reddit thread points out that reading that string backwords results in: “edit by (04882) joel backdoor”.

SNESoIP: It’s exactly what it sounds like


Here’s a cool hack for those of you wishing to play some retro multiplayer SNES games online!

[Michael Fitzmayer] is a resident hacker at shackspace; der hackerspace in StuttgartHe’s come up with this clever little ethernet adapter network-bridge that can share local controller-inputs over the internet. The entire project is open-source, and readily available on github. It’s still in the early stage of development, but it is already fully functional. The firmware is small and will fit on an ATmega8, and by the looks of the component list it’s a fairly easy build.

He’s even integrated a switch mode (hold B and Y during boot), which avoids trying to figure out which controller will be player one! After all, don’t you remember untangling the controller cords, trying to figure out which one is which?

We know you had a favorite controller and would give the other “crappy” one to your guest.

Example video is after the break.

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