The Year of the Car Hacks

With the summer’s big security conferences over, now is a good time to take a look back on automotive security. With talks about attacks on Chrysler, GM and Tesla, and a whole new Car Hacking village at DEF CON, it’s becoming clear that autosec is a theme that isn’t going away.

Up until this year, the main theme of autosec has been the in-vehicle network. This is the connection between the controllers that run your engine, pulse your anti-lock brakes, fire your airbags, and play your tunes. In most vehicles, they communicate over a protocol called Controller Area Network (CAN).

An early paper on this research [PDF] was published back in 2010 by The Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security,a joint research effort between University of California San Diego and the University of Washington. They showed a number of vulnerabilities that could be exploited with physical access to a vehicle’s networks.

A number of talks were given on in-vehicle network security, which revealed a common theme: access to the internal network gives control of the vehicle. We even had a series about it here on Hackaday.

The response from the automotive industry was a collective “yeah, we already knew that.” These networks were never designed to be secure, but focused on providing reliable, real-time data transfer between controllers. With data transfer as the main design goal, it was inevitable there would be a few interesting exploits.

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RC Lawnmower Has No Grass to Cut

They say laziness and necessity is one of the greatest drives for invention. Whoever said that didn’t think about what happens when inventors are bored. [The Random Mechanic] decided to build himself a remote-controlled lawnmower, despite the terrible drought he’s been having — resulting in literally no grass to cut.

To make the lawn mower remote-controlled, he cobbled together a gas lawn mower, with the remains of an electric wheelchair. This ended up working really well. He’s using an old RC car remote and its two servos to remotely control the original wheel chair’s joystick. Simple, but super effective.

The wheelchair mower is fast, nice and heavy thanks to some lead acid batteries, and very maneuverable with the front wheels being casters. It’s a shame he doesn’t have any grass to cut!

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Reverse Engineering a Different Kind of Bus

Radio enthusiasts have a long history of eavesdropping on non-broadcast stations–police, fire, and public transportation frequencies, for example. These days, though, a lot of interesting communications are digital. When [bastibl] wanted to read data displayed on bus stop signs, he turned to software defined radio. He used gr-fosphor to monitor the radio spectrum as buses drove by and discovered a strong signal near 151 MHz (see photo below).

That, however, was just the start. Using a variety of tools, he figured out the modulation scheme, how the data framing worked, and even the error correction scheme. Armed with all the information, he built a GNU Radio receiver to pick up the data. A little number crunching and programming and [bastibl] was able to recover data about  individual buses including their position and schedule.

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Okay, Google. Start the Jeep!

When [wizardpc] bought his Jeep, it came with an Avital 3100L car alarm system; but after it started going on the fritz, he needed to replace it. So he opted for a new alarm system with the same harness type — and then he decided to hack it.

When installing the new alarm system, an Avital 5103L combo unit, he realized there was an extra wire that when grounded, starts the vehicle — Avital had included the hardware upgrade before the software came out on this specific model. Score.

From there it was a pretty easy hack. All he needed was a Raspberry Pi 2, a relay board, and a few dirt simple lines of code. On the mobile end of things is a collection of hacks; he’s using Tasker with his Android phone to add a special command to Google Now. He tells Google to ‘Start the Jeep’ and after a few seconds, she turns right on.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Google would expose some hooks so that we can all add our own functionality to Google Now without doing the app-juggling  [wizardpc] used for this? If you have your own set of Google Now hacks we’d love to hear about it. Send us a tip!

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The EM Drive Might Not Work, but We Get Helicarriers If It Does

There is a device under test out there that promises to take humans to another star in a single lifetime. It means vacations on the moon, retiring at Saturn, and hovercars. If it turns out to be real, it’s the greatest invention of the 21st century. If not, it will be relegated to the history of terrible science right underneath the cold fusion fiasco. It is the EM drive, the electromagnetic drive, a reactionless thruster that operates only on RF energy. It supposedly violates the laws of conservation of momentum, but multiple independent lab tests have shown that it produces thrust. What’s the real story? That’s a little more complicated.

The EM Drive is a device that turns RF energy — radio waves — directly into thrust. This has obvious applications for spacecraft, enabling vacations on Mars, manned explorations of Saturn, and serious consideration of human colonization of other solar systems. The EM drive, if proven successful, would be one of the greatest inventions of all time. Despite the amazing amount of innovation the EM drive would enable, it’s actually a fairly simple device, and something that can be built out of a few copper sheets.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Project Dekoboko 凸凹 Maps Bumpy Roads On A Bike

If you live in New England (like me) you know that the roads take a pounding in the winter. Combine this with haphazard maintenance and you get a recipe for biking disaster: bumpy, potholed roads that can send you flying over the handlebars. Project Dekoboko 凸凹 aims to help a little with this, by helping you map and avoid the bumpiest roads and could be a godsend in this area.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize entry from [Benjamin Shih], [Daniel Rojas], and [Maxim Lapis] is a device that clips onto your bike and maps how bumpy the ride is as you pedal around. It does this by measuring the vibration of the bike frame with an accelerometer. Combine this with a GPS log and you get a map of the quality of the roads that helps you plan a smooth ride, or which could help the city figure out which roads need fixing the most.

bike-measures-bumpy-roads-thumbThe project is currently on its  third version, built around an Arduino, Adafruit Ultimate GPS Logger shield, and a protoboard that holds the accelerometer (an Analog ADXL345). The team has also set up a first version of their web site, which contains live data from a few trips around Berlin. This does show one of the issues they will need to figure out, though: the GPS data has them widely veering off the road, which means that the data was slightly off, or they were cycling through buildings on the Prinzenstrasse, including a house music club. I’ll assume that it was the GPS being inaccurate and not them stopping for a rave, but they will need to figure out ways to tie this data down to a specific street before they can start really analyzing it. Google Maps does offer a way to do this, but it is not always accurate, especially on city streets. Still, the project has made good progress and could be useful for those who are looking for a smooth ride around town.

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Dutch Student Team Aims To Launch Rocket to 50KM

Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of DARE, the [Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering] team, who are looking to launch a rocket to 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) to break the European amateur rocketry record later this year.

This brave crew of students from the Delft Technical University is boldly going where no European amateur has gone before with a rocket of their own design called Stratos II, a single stage hybrid rocket which is driven by a DHX-200 Aurora engine. This self-built engine uses a combination of solid Sorbitol and candlewax fuel, with liquid Nitrous Oxide as the oxidizer. The rather unlikely sounding combination should produce an impressive 12,000 Newtons of maximum thrust, and a total of 180,000 Ns of impulse. It’s difficult to make a proper comparison, but the largest model rocket motor sold in the US without a special license (a class G) has up to 160 Ns of impulse and the largest engine ever built by amateurs had 411,145 Ns of impulse.

The team did try a launch last year, but the launch failed due to a frozen fuel valve. Like any good engineering team, they haven’t let failure get them down, and have been busy redesigning their rocket for another launch attempt in the middle of October, Their launch window begins on October 13th at a military base in southern Spain, and we will be watching their attempt closely. Godspeed, DARE!

In commercial space news, yesterday NASA tested the RS-25 engine that will be used in the Space Launch System — the rocket it’s developing to take astronauts to the moon and mars. Also, the NTSB report on the tragic crash of SpaceShipTwo was released a few weeks ago. The report found that the feather mechanism was unlocked by the copilot at the wrong time, leading to the crash. Future system improvements will be put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Update – The Stratos II is a single-stage rocket, not a two-stage, as an earlier version of this article described. 8/16/15

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