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DEFCON 22: The HackRF PortaPack

What do you get when you combine one of the best (and certainly one of the best for the price) software defined radios with the user interface of a 10-year-old iPod? The HackRF PortaPack, developed by [Jared Boone], and demonstrated at DEFCON last weekend.

[Jared] is one of the original developers for the HackRF, a 10MHz to 6GHz software defined radio that can also transmit in half duplex. Since the development of the HackRF has (somewhat) wrapped up, [Jared] has been working on the PortaPack, an add-on for the HackRF that turns it into a portable, ARM Cortex M4-powered software defined radio. No, it’s not as powerful as a full computer running GNU Radio, but it does have the capability to listen in on a surprising amount of radio signals.

Because [Jared] is using a fairly low-power micro for the PortaPack, there’s a lot of tricks he’s using to get everything running smoothly. He gave a lightning talk at the Wireless Village at DEFCON going over the strengths and weaknesses of the chip he’s using, and surprisingly he’s using very little floating point arithmetic in his code. You can check out the video for that talk below.

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THP Entry: A 433MHz Packet Cloner

ookloneThe first generation of The Internet Of Things™ and Home Automation devices are out in the wild, and if there’s one question we can ask it’s, “why hasn’t anyone built a simple cracking device for them”. Never fear, because [texane] has your back with his cheap 433MHz OOK frame cloner.

A surprising number of the IoT and Home Automation devices on the market today use 433MHz radios, and for simplicity’s sake, most of them use OOK encoding. [Texane]‘s entry for THP is a simple device with two buttons: one to record OOK frames, and a second to play them back.

Yes, this project can be replicated with fancy software defined radios, but [Texane]‘s OOKlone costs an order of magnitude less than the (actually very awesome) HackRF SDR. He says he can build it for less than $20, and with further refinements to the project it could serve as a record and play swiss army knife for anything around 433MHz. Video demo of the device in action below.

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HOPE X: Creating Smart Spaces With ReelyActive

When we hear about the Internet of Things, we’re thinking it’s a portable device with a sensor of some kind, a radio module, and the ability to push data up to the Internet. There’s nothing that says a device that puts data on the Internet has to be portable, though, as [Jeff] from ReelyActive showed us at HOPE X last weekend.

[Jeff]‘s startup is working on a device that turns every space into a smart space. It does this with radio modules connected to a computer that listen to Bluetooth and the 868, 915 and 2400MHz bands. These modules turn every place into a smart space, identifying who just walked into a room, and who is at a specific location. Think of it as the invisible foundation for any truly smart house.

The radio modules themselves are daisychained with Cat5 cable, able to be plugged into a hub or existing Ethernet drops. The software that makes the whole thing work can run on just about anything; if you want a Raspi to turn on the lights when you enter a room, or turn off a thermostat when you leave a building, that’s just a few lines of code and a relay.

The software is open source, and [Jeff] and his team are looking at making the hardware open. It’s a great idea, and something that would be a good entry for The Hackaday Prize, but ReelyActive is located in Montréal, and like Syria and North Korea, we’re not allowed to run a contest in Quebec.

HOPE X: Citizens Band Microwave Spectrum And Free Internet For All


The bulk of HOPE X was the talks, but arguably the far more interesting aspect of thousands of hackers and tinkerers under one roof is talking to everyone about what they’re doing. One guy hanging out at HOPE gave a quick lightning talk to a few people about something very interesting: something the FCC is pushing through that’s open to just about everything: it’s the FCC’s new CB radio service (you’ll want to click the presentation link at the very top of the page), giving anyone, not just people with a radio license, access to a huge swath of microwave spectrum.

The short version of the talk was the fact the FCC is extremely interested in opening up 100 to 200 MHz of spectrum at 3.5 GHz. The idea is to create something like cellular service that can either be implemented by companies, or normal, everyday people. The initial goal of this is to provide -possibly- free Internet to anyone with the right USB dongle. Since it’s just radio, and open to everyone, just about anything can be implemented.

This is something the FCC, Google, Microsoft, and a whole bunch of startups are extremely interested in, and the fact that about half of the spectrum will be open to anyone creates some interesting opportunities. A community-based freenet of wireless Internet links becomes an easy solution, and since the hardware to access 3.5 GHz is similar to other hardware that’s already available means building your own wireless ISP could be relatively easy in 12 to 18 months.

A transcript of the lightning talk is available below.

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Homebrew NSA Bugs


Thanks to [Edward Snowden] we have a huge, publicly available catalog of the very, very interesting electronic eavesdropping tools the NSA uses. Everything from incredibly complex ARM/FPGA/Flash modules smaller than a penny to machines that can install backdoors in Windows systems from a distance of eight miles are available to the nation’s spooks, and now, the sufficiently equipped electronic hobbyist can build their own.

[GBPPR2] has been going through the NSA’s ANT catalog in recent months, building some of the simpler radio-based bugs. The bug linked to above goes by the codename LOUDAUTO, and it’s a relatively simple (and cheap) radar retro-reflector that allows anyone with the hardware to illuminate a simple circuit to get audio back.

Also on [GBPPR2]‘s build list is RAGEMASTER, a device that fits inside a VGA cable and allows a single VGA color channel to be viewed remotely.

The basic principle behind both of these bugs is retroreflection, described by the NSA as a PHOTOANGLO device. The basic principle behind these devices is a FET in the bug, with an antenna connected to the drain. The PHOTOANGLO illuminates this antenna and the PWM signal sent to the gate of the FET modulates the returned signal. A bit of software defined radio on the receiving end, and you have your very own personal security administration.

It’s all very cool stuff, but there are some entries in the NSA catalog that don’t deal with radio at all. One device, IRATEMONK, installs a backdoor in hard drive controller chips. Interestingly, Hackaday favorite and current Hackaday Prize judge [Sprite_TM] did something extremely similar, only without, you know, being really sketchy about it.

While we don’t like the idea of anyone actually using these devices, the NSA ANT catalog is still fertile ground for project ideas.

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Generate Clocks with the SI5351 and an Arduino

A SI5351 clock generator chip and an Arduino

If you’re dealing with RF, you’ll probably have the need to generate a variety of clock signals. Fortunately, [Jason] has applied his knowledge to build a SI5351 library for the Arduino and a breakout board for the chip.

The SI5351 is a programmable clock generator. It can output up to eight unique frequencies at 8 kHz to 133 MHz. This makes it a handy tool for building up RF projects. [Jason]‘s breakout board provides 3 isolated clock outputs on SMA connectors. A header connects to an Arduino, which provides power and control over I2C.

If you’re looking for an application, [Jason]‘s prototype single-sideband radio shows the chip in action. This radio uses two of the SI5351 clocks: one for the VFO and one for the BFO. This reduces the part count, and could make this design quite cheap.

The Arduino library is available on Github, and you can order a SI5351 breakout board from OSHPark.

Easily Turn Your Raspberry Pi into an FM Transmitter

RasPi FM Transmitter

Have you ever wanted to be your own radio DJ? [Kevin] has made it easier than ever with his Raspberry Pi FM Transmitter program. The program is written in C. [Kevin] has made source code is available along with a compiled binary.

PIFM allows you to load up any audio file and specify a frequency to transmit. The program will then use PWM to modulate the audio sample through the Pi’s GPIO4 pin. [Kevin] claims that the RasPi alone will only transmit around a 10 cm distance. He says that making a simple antenna out of a jumper wire can increase the distance to around 100 meters. All you have to do is hook up the wire to the GPIO4 pin to drastically increase the range.

The legality of such a transmitter will vary from place to place, so be sure to check out your local regulations before you go transmitting audio on regulated frequencies. If this kind of thing is interesting to you, you may want to investigate ham radio. It’s not all Morse code and old fogies. Some people claim it’s a hacker’s paradise.

[via Reddit]


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