Physical Security for Desktop Computers

There’s a truism in the security circles that says physical security is security. It doesn’t matter how many bits you’ve encrypted your password with, which elliptic curve you’ve used in your algorithm, or if you use a fingerprint, retina scan, or face print for a second factor of authentication. If someone has physical access to a device, all these protections are just road bumps in the way of getting your data. Physical access to a machine means all that data is out in the open, and until now there’s nothing you could do to stop it.

This week at Black Hat Europe, Design-Shift introduced ORWL, a computer that provides the physical security to all the data sitting on your computer.

The first line of protection for the data stuffed into the ORWL is unique key fob radio. This electronic key fob is simply a means of authentication for the ORWL – without it, ORWL simply stays in its sleep mode. If the user walks away from the computer, the USB ports are shut down, and the HDMI output is disabled. While this isn’t a revolutionary feature – something like this can be installed on any computer – that’s not the biggest trick ORWL has up its sleeve.

ORWL2The big draw to the ORWL is a ‘honeycomb mesh’ that completely covers every square inch of circuit board. This honeycomb mesh is simply a bit of plastic that screws on to the ORWL PCB and connects dozens of electronic traces embedded in this board to a secure microcontroller. If these traces are broken – either through taking the honeycomb shell off or by breaking it wide open, the digital keys that unlock the computer are erased.

The ORWL specs are what you would expect from a bare-bones desktop computer: Intel Skylake mobile processors, Intel graphics, a choice of 4 or 8GB of RAM, 64 to 512GB SSD. WiFi, two USB C ports, and an HDMI port provide all the connections to the outside world.

While this isn’t a computer for everyone, and it may not even a very large deployment, it is an interesting challenge. Physical security rules over all, and it would be very interesting to see what sort of attack can be performed on the ORWL to extract all the data hidden away behind an electronic mesh. Short of breaking the digital key hidden on a key fob, the best attack might just be desoldering the chips for the SSD and transplanting them into a platform more amenable to reading them.

In any event, ORWL is an interesting device if only for being one of the few desktop computers to tackle the problem of physical security. As with any computer, if you have physical access to a device, you have access to all the data on the device; we just don’t know how to get the data off one of these tiny computers.

Video below.

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Swimming Pool Dance Floor Enlightened With Leds

In a well documented blog entry, [Loren Bufanu] presents a project that lit up a glass dance floor covering a swimming pool with RGB strips. We mentioned a video of his project in a Hackaday links but didn’t have any background information. Now we do.

boards in boxThe project took around 450 meters of RGB strips controlled by two Rainbowduinos and driven by sixty-four power Mosfets, sixty-four bipolar transistors, and a few other components. Producing white light from the LEDs draws 8 amps from the power supply.

The Rainbowduino is an ATmega328 Arduino compatible board with two MY9221 controllers. Each  controller handles 12 channels of Adaptive Pulse Density Modulation. In other words, it makes the LEDs flash nicely. [Loren] used the Rainbowduino instead of some alternatives because multiple R’duinos can coordinate their activities over I2C.

The software part of the project did not work as well as the hardware. The light patterns were supposed to follow the music being played. A PC software package intended to drive the R’duinos produced just a muddy mess. Some kludges, including screen captures (!), driven by a batch file tamed the unruliness.

It’s been awhile, but a similar disco dance floor, built by [Chris Williamson] but not over a pool, previously caught our attention. [Chris] is a principle in Terror Tech that recently got a mention on Sparkfun.

The video after the break fortunately does not make a big splash, but is still electrifying.

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Build An Amazon EC2 Gaming Rig

PC gaming is better than console gaming. Now that we’ve said something controversial enough to meet the comment quota for this post, let’s dig into [Larry]’s Amazon EC2 gaming rig.

A while ago, [Larry] bought a MacBook Air. It’s a great machine for what it is, but it’s not exactly the laptop you want for playing modern AAA games on the go. If you have enough bandwidth and a low enough ping, you can replicated just about everything as an EC2 instance.

[Larry] is using a Windows Server 2012 AMI with a single NVIDIA GRID K520 GPU in his instance. After getting all the security, firewall, and other basic stuff configured, it’s just a matter of installing a specific driver for an NVIDIA Titan. With Steam installed and in-home streaming properly configured it’s time to game.

The performance [Larry] is getting out of this setup is pretty impressive. It’s 60fps, but because he’s streaming all his games to a MacBook Air, he’ll never get 1080p.

If you’re wondering how much this costs, it’s actually not too bad. The first version of [Larry]’s cloud-based gaming system was about $0.54 per hour. For the price of a $1000 battle station, that’s about 1900 hours of gaming, and for the price of a $400 potato, that’s 740 hours of gaming.

Extreme Repair of an All-in-One PC

While browsing a local auction site, [Viktor] found himself bidding on a beat up Lenovo A600 all-in-one PC. He bid around $50 and won. Then came the hard part – actually making the thing work. The front glass was cracked, but the LCD was thankfully unharmed. The heat pipes looked like they had been attacked with monkey wrenches. The superIO chip’s pins were mangled, and worst of all, the MXM video card was dead.

The first order of business was to fix the superIO chip’s pins and a few nearby discrete components which had been knocked off their pads. Once that was done, [Viktor] was actually able to get the computer to boot into Linux from a USB flash drive. The next step was bringing up the display. [Viktor] only needed a coding station, so in addition to being dead, the video accelerator on the MXM wasn’t very useful to him. The Lenovo’s motherboard was designed to support video on an MXM card or internal video. Switching over meant changing some driver settings and moving a few components, including a rather large LVDS connector for the display itself. A difficult task, compounded by the fact that [Viktor’s] soldering tools were a pair of soldering guns that would be better suited to fixing the bodywork on a ’57 Chevy. He was able to fashion a hot wire setup of sorts, and moved the connector over. When he was done, only one tiny solder bridge remained!

The end result is a new coding battle station for [Viktor] and a computer which was a basket case is saved from the landfill. If you like this hack, check out [Viktor’s] low power PSU, or his 1 wire network!

Behold! The Most Insane Crowdfunding Campaign Ever

Hold on to your hats, because this is a good one. It’s a tale of disregarding the laws of physics, cancelled crowdfunding campaigns, and a menagerie of blogs who take press releases at face value.

Meet Silent Power (Google translation). It’s a remarkably small and fairly powerful miniature gaming computer being put together by a team in Germany. The specs are pretty good for a completely custom computer: an i7 4785T, GTX 760, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB SSD. Not a terrible machine for something that will eventually sell for about $930 USD, but what really puts this project in the limelight is the innovative cooling system and small size. The entire machine is only 16x10x7 cm, accented with a very interesting “copper foam” heat sink on top. Sounds pretty cool, huh? It does, until you start to think about the implementation a bit. Then it’s a descent into madness and a dark pit of despair.

There are a lot of things that are completely wrong with this project, and in true Hackaday fashion, we’re going to tear this one apart, figuring out why this project will never exist.

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A PC rig that belongs on the wall of an art museum

When user [Show4Pro] decided to upgrade his “old dusty rig”, he eschewed the conventional PC form factor and instead built an incredibly sexy custom wall-mounted case.

The six sticks of RAM, quad HDD/SSDs, and dual Radeon HD7970s are enough to make all but the most hard core gamer blush, but that was only the beginning here.  Using a Dremel tool, Show4Pro cut the frame from a piece of hardboard and coated it with a mock-carbon fiber vinyl sheet.  This backdrop acts to both hide the (many) cables and provide structural support to the components.  Custom light guides cut from an acrylic sheet are back lit with LEDs and serve as a border for each of the components.

Laying all of the boards flat on the frame required the use of PCIe risers to move the video cards away from the mother board.  Long PCIe connectors are very susceptible to EMI though, and Show4Pro ran into a few stability problems that he eventually had to resolve with some high-end shielded risers.

Besides that one minor hiccough, the project went off without a hitch and it looks like his 100+ hours of work have really paid off.

Via Reddit.

Pimp my scooter

[Glen] built this shiny party machine out of a pretty sad-looking scooter. We’d bet you’re wondering why we think it’s a party machine when it looks so common? The only real giveaway in this photo is the custom exhaust, but hidden in the body of the beast is 720 Watts of party power plus a whole bunch of extras.

When he gets where he’s going, [Glen] parks his ride and lifts up the seat to unfold the entertainment. Attached to the underside of the saddle is a 720 Watt audio amplifier. It drives one big speaker under the seat, as well as two tweeters and two mid-range speakers that were fitted into the front console. But these days a party isn’t a party without some video, and that’s why you’ll also find a 7-inch LCD screen suspended from the upright seat. Tunes and videos are supplied by an iPod touch up front, or the PC he built into the ride. All it’s missing is a gaming console!

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