FCC Introduces Rules Banning WiFi Router Firmware Modification

For years we have been graced by cheap consumer electronics that are able to be upgraded through unofficial means. Your Nintendo DS is able to run unsigned code, your old XBox was a capable server for its time, your Android smartphone can be made better with CyanogenMod, and your wireless router could be expanded far beyond what it was originally designed to do thanks to the efforts of open source firmware creators. Now, this may change. In a proposed rule from the US Federal Communications Commission, devices with radios may be required to prevent modifications to firmware.

The proposed rule only affects devices operating in the U-NII bands; the portion of the spectrum used for 5GHz WiFi, and the proposed rule only affects the radios inside these devices. Like all government regulations, the law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head, and the proposed rules effectively ban Open Source router firmware.

The rules require all relevant devices to implement software security to ensure the radios of devices operating in this band cannot be modified. Because of the economics of cheap routers, nearly every router is designed around a System on Chip – a CPU and radio in a single package. Banning the modification of one inevitably bans the modification of the other, and eliminates the possibility of installing proven Open Source firmware on any device.

Dumpster Dive Results In 3D Print Server Project

3D Printers are super convenient when you need a part quickly. However, they can be seriously inconvenient if the 3D printer has to be tethered to your computer for the duration of the entire print. [Matt] purchased a Makerfarm i3v printer and has been using it a bunch. The only thing he wasn’t crazy about was having it occupy his computer while printing objects. Then one day [Matt] was dumpster diving (don’t roll your eyes, we all do it) and found a Netgear WNDR3700v1 WiFi router. This particular router has a USB port and it made [Matt] think, “can I use this to run my printer?

[Matt] started by checking out 3D print server software OctoPrint and found out that it was entirely written in Python. He had a feeling that he could get Python running on that found Netgear router. The first step was to install OpenWrt to the router and configure it as a client. That was straight forward and went well.  The router only had one USB port so a hub was necessary in order to connect a USB drive and the printer. The USB drive was necessary because the router itself did not have enough memory for OctoPrint. Installing OctoPrint to the router was a little complicated and took a bit of trial and error but [Matt] figured out the best method and documented that on his site for anyone interested in doing the same. So now, [Matt] can use his computer’s web browser to access OctoPrint on the Netgear router, start a print and go back to using his computer without fear of a failed print. OctoPrint and the router are now solely responsible for controlling the printer.

If you’re interested in more ways to remotely control your printer, check this out.

Skyscraper Tetris Lets the City Know how Good or Bad You Are

If you’ve clocked one-too-many hours at Tetris, it might be time to show the world your skills on this skyscraper-sized display on the Shell Centre in London. [Benjamin], [Tom], and their “army of volunteers” took to the Shell building and assembled their super-screen from a collection of 182 networked wireless lightbulbs, some tracing paper, and mylar to create a playable interface from the Jubilee Gardens below.

[Benjamin] doesn’t deliver many of the technical details on his post, but he does give us an overview. He achieves full wireless coverage of all floors by spacing out 14 TP-Link WR702n routers, each running the same version of OpenWRT. This interface wasn’t [Benjamin’s] first choice, as he would’ve preferred to tap into the building’s existing wireless network; unfortunately, he was left without support from the building’s network team. Equipped with a large donation of wireless bulbs controlled by a central bridge, [Benjamin’s] Python-adaptation of Tetris can refresh the building about about 1-to-2 frames per second. Given his description of the bulb interface, we suspect he’s using the all-too-familiar Philips Hue smart lightbulbs to illuminate the building.

In case you haven’t heard of Faraday’s Christmas Lectures, they’re the UK’s nationally broadcasted “science special” featured at the end of the year and founded in 1825 by [Michael Faraday] himself. The goal of these Lectures is to introduce young people to some aspect from the sciences. We’ve seen giant Tetrises before, but not in a way that inspires such a young audience. We’re thrilled to see that hacking both in software (Python, LAN networks) and hardware (ZigBee, OpenWRT) made the cut for this year’s special. After all, why should MIT keep all the fun to themselves?

If the building-scale is just too big for your taste, why not have a go on your oscilloscope?

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Bringing A Legacy Pager Network Back to Life

[Jelmer] recently found his old pager in the middle of a move, and decided to fire it up to relive his fond memories of receiving a page. He soon discovered that the pager’s number was no longer active and the pager’s network was completely shut down. To bring his pager back to life, [Jelmer] built his own OpenWRT-based pager base station that emulates the POCSAG RF pager protocol.

[Jelmer] opened up his pager and started probing signals to determine what protocol the pager used. Soon he found the RF receiver and decoder IC which implements the POCSAG pager protocol. [Jelmer] began going through the sparse POCSAG documentation and assembled enough information to implement the protocol himself.

[Jelmer] used a HLK-RM04 WiFi router module for the brains of his build, which talks to an ATMega that controls a SI4432 RF transceiver. The router runs OpenWRT and generates POCSAG control signals that are transmitted by the SI4432 IC. [Jelmer] successfully used this setup to send control signals to several pagers he had on hand, and plans on using the setup to send customizable alerts in the future. [Jelmer] does note that operating this device may be illegal in many countries, so as always, check local frequency allocations and laws before tackling this project. Check out the video after the break where a pager is initialized by [Jelmer]’s transmitter.

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Hacking a $20 WiFi Smart Plug

The Kankun smart plug is an inexpensive device that lets you switch an outlet on and off over wifi. The smart plug only works with an Android or IOS app that ships with the device, which limits its usefulness to turning things on and off from your phone.

In an attempt to make this device more useful, [LinuxGeek] probed the device with nmap and discovered that it runs OpenWRT. After trying various common default passwords he discovered the login was root/admin. While [LinuxGeek] hasn’t sniffed the protocol yet, others have hacked it a bit further. The plug apparently uses UDP packets to communicate with the Android app, but the packets are unfortunately encrypted.

Rather than hack at the protocol, they wrote code that toggles the GPIO pin from a CGI script and developed a small Windows application that hits the CGI script for simple control from a computer. There’s also a Google+ group where more information and a couple other hacks for these plugs are posted. For $20 (from AliExpress) and with a bit of hacking, this smart plug could be a great way to add wireless control to a home automation system.

Playing Doom (Poorly) on a VoCore

Last May brought the unastonishing news that companies were taking the Systems on Chip found in $20 wireless routers and making dev boards out of them. The first of these is the VoCore, an Indiegogo campaign for a 360MHz CPU with 8MB of Flash and 32MB or RAM packaged in a square inch PCB for the Internet of Things. Now that the Indiegogo rewards are heading out to workbenches the world over, it was only a matter of time before someone got Doom to run on one of them.

After fixing some design flaws in the first run of VoCores, [Pyrofer] did the usual things you would do with a tiny system running Linux – webcams for streaming video, USB sound cards to play internet radio, and the normal stuff OpenWrt does.

His curiosity satiated, [Pyrofer] turned to more esoteric builds. WIth a color LCD from Sparkfun, he got an NES emulator running. This is all through hardware SPI, mind you. Simple 2D graphics are cool enough, but the standard graphical test for all low powered computers is, of course, Doom.

The game runs, but just barely. Still, [Pyrofer] is happy with the VoCore and with a little more work with the SPI and bringing a framebuffer to his tiny system, he might have a neat portable Doom machine on his hands.

Anonabox: How To Fail Horribly at Kickstarter

Late last week, Anonabox hit Kickstarter, glomming on to concerns over security, privacy, and censorship. The project was picked up on the usual tech blogs, lauding this project as the pinnacle of the Open Source, Open Hardware movement and a great investment for the privacy-minded technocrat in a post-Snowden world.

Then, the creator of Anonabox did an AMA on reddit. It was quickly discovered that the entire project was an off the shelf router found on AliExpress with reflashed firmware. The router sells for $20 in quantity one, and the Anonabox Kickstarter is giving them away with a minimum $51 pledge. The new firmware is basically a standard OpenWrt installation with a few changes to the config files. The project claims to solve the problem of hardware backdoors, but ships with a backdoor root password (the password is ‘developer!’), open WiFi, and ssh open by default. The Anonabox also claims to be a plug and play solution to security and privacy on the Internet, meaning if this project ever ships, there will be a lot of people who won’t change the default configuration. That’s rather hilarious in its implications.

According to the Kickstarter campaign, the Anonabox has gone through four years of development and four generations of hardware. [August] even has a great graphic demonstrating that each successive generation has reduced the size in half and doubled the system resources:

Unscaled
Image taken from Kickstarter campaign

Anyone with the slightest eye for detail will quickly realize that components, like Ethernet jacks, SD cards, and CF cards are always the same size. I wonder what this graphic would look like if all the boards were scaled so they were in proportion to each other?

Rescaled
Image rescaled so all boards are proportional to each other

Oh. That’s not fishy at all.

As with most Kickstarters that have seen this much negative attention, the project was suspended just a few hours ago, but not before gathering more than $600,000 in pledges at its peak.

suspended

Although the Anonabox failed, there is a market for a Tor-enabled router, and luckily we have one on hackaday.io. It’s so great that some of the copy for the Kickstarter campaign was lifted directly from this project. With a wealth of market research available, we can only hope that [CaptainStouf] runs his own campaign for the UnJailPi.