Apple laptop batteries vulnerable to firmware hack

dead_and_busted_macbook_batteries

When you think about hacking laptops, it’s highly unlikely that you would ever consider the battery as a viable attack vector. Security researcher [Charlie Miller] however, has been hard at work showing just how big a vulnerability they can be.

As we have been discussing recently, the care and feeding of many batteries, big and small, is handled by some sort of microcontroller. [Charlie] found that a 2009 update issued by Apple to fix some lingering MacBook power issues used one of two passwords to write data to the battery controllers. From what he has seen, it seems these same passwords have been used on all batteries manufactured since that time as well. Using this data, he was subsequently able to gain access to the chips, allowing him to remotely brick the batteries, falsify data sent to the OS, and completely replace the stock firmware with that of his own.

He says that it would be possible for an attacker to inject malware into the battery itself, which would covertly re-infect the machine, despite all traditional removal attempts. Of course, replacing the battery would rectify the issue in these situations, but he says that it would likely be the last thing anyone would suspect as the source of infection. While using the battery to proliferate malware or cause irreversible damage to the computer would take quite a bit of work, [Charlie] claims that either scenario is completely plausible.

He plans on presenting his research at this year’s Black Hat security conference in August, but in the meantime he has created a utility that generates a completely random password for your Mac’s battery. He says that he has already contacted Apple to in order to help them construct a permanent fix for the issue, so an official patch may be available in the near future.

[Thanks, Sergio]

Mac tablet keeps the look of the donor-Macbook

[Enigma-penguin] built a tablet computer out of a Core2Duo Macbook circa 2007. The battery exploded, damaging the case and a few components inside. But there was hope for a new life as a tablet computer. He removed the screen and tested to make sure the computer would still function without it by using the video out port.

Putting the whole thing back together as a tablet proved to have some headaches. He worked through problems caused by the addition of a touchscreen between the LCD and the bezel and made the connections work with the screen flipped. The finished product looks so good because the bezel has not been turned around like on other tablet builds. Instead, a viewing window was cut in what would have been the case behind the screen.

There’s a little more to be done yet. The black USB cable seen above is the connector for the touchscreen which he plans to internalize. The magnetic sleep sensor has been relocated to the headphone jack. Inserting a plug (no cord necessary) puts it to sleep for transport. There’s also an on screen keyboard and the ability to change the screen orientation from landscape to portrait. After the break we’ve embedded one of [Enigma-penguin's] demonstrations. [Read more...]

A desktop made of Air

Deskbook Air Guts

[Bart] managed to get his hands on a Macbook Air for free. The catch was that the monitor hinge was broken and the laptop wasn’t in too great of a condition. Rather than scrapping it or using it as a cake cutter, he decided to turn it into a keyboard PC. By removing the internals he was able to fit all of the components with minimal modification. [Bart] has added a few things to make it a functional desktop, such as integrating a USB hub under the the keyboard and fitted the keyboard with a Magic Trackpad. As with any great hack, the project is still in progress, and we can’t wait to see the final touches as it comes together.

Audio breakout box for MacBook Pro

[Billy] wanted to use the audio connector on his MacBook Pro for input and output at the same time. He knew it could be done because Apple sells headphones with built-in microphones that work with the computer. He set out to build a breakout box so that he could connect the components of his choice to the single port. Using a scart-RCA adaptor box he scrapped the scart plug and wired the RCA jacks to the Apple headphone wires. He can now patch the pickup of his guitar to the mic connector, send it through the MacBook, and run the output back to his guitar amp.

Magic Mouse and MacBook teardowns

magicmouse

The folks at iFixit must hold some kind of record for fastest-voided warranty. It’s been less than 48 hours since Apple unleashed a torrent of new computers and peripherals, and they’ve already set upon the new wares like a pack of ravenous, spudger-wielding Velociraptors, photoblogging the splayed entrails for our edutainment.

The refreshed MacBook holds few surprises, resembling a Star Trek teleportation mix-up between the prior 13″ white MacBook and the current 13″ MacBook Pro. It retains a white polycarbonate case much like its predecessor while adopting a subset of the Pro’s components — CPU and GPU, glass trackpad, Mini DisplayPort, and the long-lived but sealed battery. Internally the system is still a maze of different-sized Torx, Phillips and tri-wing screws, but they do report this latest revision to be easier to dismantle for repair.

More novel inside and out is the new Magic Mouse, which early reports suggest may finally redeem Apple’s eleven year train wreck of mice. There’s not much to see on the bottom half — it’s a typical wireless mouse consisting of batteries, laser tracker and a Bluetooth chip. The top is something to behold though, with nearly the entire surface encrusted in capacitive sensors capable of gestural input. It resembles a miniature version of this electrostatic interface we saw in April.

No teardowns of the new iMacs, Mac mini or Time Capsule have taken place yet, but it’s surely just a matter of time. Even Velociraptors need to eat and sleep.

Update: 27″ iMac teardown added. Rawr!

Hacking the MagSafe

magsafe
This is a simple hack that could come in handy one day. [Mooner] wanted to use a Kensington universal power supply with his Macbook Pro, but found the adapters and peripherals involved “hideous”. His solution was to wire directly to the Kensington power supply. It’s pretty simple really, only a couple resistors are needed. It’s nice to have someone else do the research for you sometimes. While his final picture does look neat and tidy, we just don’t know how much of an improvement he’s made to the aesthetics. What do you think?

Apple logo secondary monitor

macbook

MacMod member [EdsJunk] has modified the Apple logo on his MacBook to act as a second video display (cache). There’s a video embedded below showing it playing Quicktime videos and the iTunes visualizer. Unfortunately there aren’t any details of the hardware used. From the display settings, it looks to have a resolution of at least 640×480. We hope to see more details soon.

[Read more...]