In our opinion, reverse engineering may be one of the best ways to tease your brain. [Andy] just did that by reverse engineering the Sony Ericsson Vivaz high resolution LCD (cached copy here). In his (very) nicely written article, [Andy] explains all the steps that led him to the result shown in the picture above. He started by finding the repair manual of the Vivaz, to discover that the display could be interfaced with 8080 type parallel signals. That meant that he could use a standard microcontroller without high speed buses to interface with it, in this case the STM32F4. Next in his adventure, [Andy] ordered the appropriate connector and took a more educated guess for the onboard microcontroller. A long Google search brought up the R61523 from Renesas. So he designed his breakout board, got it produced and a few hours later a nice picture was being shown on the LCD. He even took the time to compare the original display with the clone he found on the webs, and modified his graphics library to support this display.
While casually lurking on a famous auction website, [TeddyDesTodes] found the gem shown in the above picture and reverse engineered it. This is a flip dot display, the Brose Vollmatrix compact to be precise. It consists of a grid of small metal discs that are black on one side and yellow on the other, set into a black background. With power applied, the disc flips to show the other side. The disc is attached to an axle which also carries a small permanent magnet. Positioned close to the magnet is a solenoid. By pulsing the solenoid coil with the appropriate electrical polarity, the magnet will align itself with the magnetic field, also turning the disc.
After carrying the 25kg display from his post office to home, [TeddyDesTodes] opened it and discovered that the main control board was using two RS422 transceivers. So he fired up his bus pirate, started to sniff the traffic and noticed that several commands were repeatedly sent. [TeddyDesTodes] stopped the transmission, sent these particular commands and had the good surprise to see some dots flipped. From there, displaying something was a piece of cake.
If this is familiar to you it may be because it was shared in one of the Trinket Contest Updates. But the background details were just so much fun we think this deserves a full feature of it’s own. Do you agree?
Wow. Seriously… Wow! The work [Ken Shirriff] put into reverse engineering the Sinclair Scientific is just amazing. He covers so much; the market forces that led [Clive Sinclair] to design the device with an under-powered chip, how the code actually fits in a minuscule amount of space, and an in-depth look at the silicon itself. Stop what you’re doing a read it right now!
This calculator shoe-horned itself into the market when the HP-35 was king at a sticker price of $395 (around $1800 in today’s money). The goal was to undercut them, a target that was reached with a $120 launch price. They managed this by using a Texas Instruments chip that had only three storage registers, paired with a ROM totaling 320 words. The calculator worked, but it was slow and inaccurate. Want to see how inaccurate? Included in the write-up is a browser-based simulator built from the reverse engineering work. Give it a try and let us know what you think.
Now [Ken] didn’t do all this work on his own. Scroll down to the bottom of his post to see the long list of contributors that helped bring this fantastic piece together. Thanks everyone!
This project definitely was a patience tester. As the control system of the Helsinki metro was (and still is) under big renovation, [Konsta] could buy three old information displays for a very cheap price (5€ each). However, these displays came with no information whatsoever about the way to drive them, thus starting a long reverse-engineering journey.
[Konsta] started by taking one apart, discovering that each side of the display was composed of 10 daisy-chained LCD screens and some kind of control box. As you may have guessed, the key to reverse engineering the display was studying the contents of this box. It turned out that the control electronics were composed of an 8085 CPU, some RAM, a peripheral I/O chip, an UV-erasable EPROM chip (containing 32KB of program memory) and an EEPROM.
[Konsta] used an AVR to dump the memory contents of the two latter chips and it was at this part of the project that the Helsinki Hacklab joined in. Together, they reverse engineered the control PCB, studied the assembler code, sniffed the different on-board buses to fully understand how the display could be controlled.
We strongly recommend reading [Konsta]‘s writeup, especially knowing that he made this english page just for us!
Like all good tinkerers, [Andrew] decided to figure out how his wireless security system worked. Yes, it’s an exercise in reverse engineering, and one of the best we’ve seen to date.
After breaking out the handheld spectrum analyzer and TV tuner SDR, [Andrew] cracked open a few devices and had a gander at the circuit boards. The keypad, PIR sensor, and base station all used a TI radio chip – the CC11xx series – that uses SPI to communicate with a microcontroller.
Attaching a logic analyzer directly to the radio chip and reading the bits directly, [Andrew] started getting some very good, if hard to understand data. From the security system specs, he knew it used a ’20-bit code’, but the packets he was reading off the SPI bus were 48 bits long. The part of this code was probably the system’s address, but how exactly does the system read its sensors?
The easiest way to figure this out was to toggle a few of the sensors and look at the data being transmitted. With a good bit of reasoning, [Andrew] figured out how the alarm system’s code worked. This theory was tested by connecting one of the radios up to an Arduino and having his suspicions confirmed.
While [Andrew]‘s adventure in reverse engineering is only a benefit for people with this model of security system, it’s a wonderful insight into how to tear things apart and understand them.
Often the true key to success is persistence and that holds true for this project which dumped the ROM from the current generation of Tamagotchi toys. If you’re a fan of learning the secrets built into consumer electronics — and you know we are — you’ll want to go back and watch the 24-minute lecture on Tamagotchi hacking which [Natalie Silvanovich] gave a 29C3 last year. She had made quite a bit of headway hacking the playable pods, but wasn’t able to get her hands on a full ROM dump from the General Plus chip on board processor. This update heralds her success and shares the details of how it was done.
As we learned form the video lecture it was a huge chore just to figure out what processor this uses. It turned out to be a 6502 core with a few other things built in. After prowling the manufacturer’s website she found example code for writing to Port A. She was then able to execute her own code which was designed to dump one byte of ROM at a time using the SPI protocol.
[Natalie] posted her code dump if you’re interested in digging through it. But as usual we think the journey is the most interesting part.
We love seeing hard-core firmware reverse engineering projects, but the number of hackers who can pull those off is relatively small. It’s possible to grow the ranks of the hacker elite though. A hackerspace is a great place to have a little challenge like this one. [Nicolas Oberli] put together a capture the flag game that requires the contestants to reverse engineer Teensy 3.0 firmware.
He developed this piece of hardware for the Insomni’hack 2013 event. It uses the Teensy 3.0 capacitive touch capabilities to form a nine-digit keypad with a character LCD screen for feedback. When the correct code is entered the screen will display instructions on how to retrieve the ‘flag’.
To the right you can see the disassembly of the .elf file generated by the Arduino IDE. This is what [Nicolas] gave to the contestants, which gets them past the barrier of figuring out how to dump the code from the chip itself. But it does get them thinking in assembly and eventually leads to figuring out what the secret code is for the device. This may be just enough of a shove in the right direction that one needs to get elbow deep into picking apart embedded hardware as a hobby.