VCF East X: The World’s Largest USB Thumb Drive

The Vintage Computer Festival last weekend featured racks and racks of old minicomputers, enough terminals for an entire lab, and enough ancient storage devices to save a YouTube video. These storage devices – hard disks, tape readers, and 8″ disk drives – were only connected to vintage hardware, with one exception: a DEC RL02 drive connected to a modern laptop via USB.

The DEC RL02 drive is the closest you’re going to get to a modern mechanical hard drive with these old machines. It’s a huge rack unit with removable platters that can hold 10 Megabytes of storage. [Chris] found one of these old drives and because he wanted to get into FPGA development, decided to create a USB adapter for this huge, old drive.

The hardware isn’t too terribly complex, with a microcontroller and an FPGA that exposes the contents of the drive over USB mass storage. For anyone trying to bootstrap a PDP-11 or -8 system, [Chris] could download disk images from the Internet, write them to the disk, and load up the contents of the drive from the minicomputer. Now, he’s using it with SimH to have a physical drive for an emulated system, but the controller really doesn’t care about what format the disk pack is in. If [Chris] formatted a disk pack with a FAT file system, he would have the world’s largest and heaviest USB thumb drive in the world.

Video below.

Update: As promised, [Chris] put all the code in a git

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Never Forget Your USB Stick Again

USB sticks are very handy. They are a very portable and relatively inexpensive means of storing data. Possibly the most annoying part about using one of these devices is when you inevitable leave it behind somewhere by accident. This is especially true if it contains sensitive information. [Eurekaguy] feels your pain, and he’s developed a solution to the problem.

[Eurekaguy] designed a custom cap for USB sticks that beeps approximately every minute after the USB stick has been plugged in for five minutes. The cap is 3D printed and then slightly modified with four 1mm holes. Two wires are routed between these holes to make contact points for the VCC and GND pins of the USB stick.

The beep circuit is comprised of a tiny PIC12F629 microcontroller along with a couple of other supporting components. The circuit is wired together dead bug style to conserve space. Three AG5 batteries power the circuit. A small piezo speaker provides the repeating beep to remind you to grab your USB stick before you walk away from the computer.

[Thanks Irish]

Hand placing flash die to make USB drives

SONY DSC

It’s a stretch to call this one a hack, but USB thumb drives are around us constantly and we always assumed that the boards inside were machine populated (like with a pick and place machine). [Bunnie] tells us otherwise. He recently had the chance to tour a factory where USB flash drives are made.

The image above shows a worker populating a set of boards with the flash memory dies. The waffle-grid to the right holds the dies. Each is a tiny glint of a component. The worker is not in a clean room, and is using a bamboo tool to pick up the pieces. [Bunnie] explains that he’s seen the tools before but doesn’t fully comprehend how they work. He figures that the hand-cut manipulator has just the right amount of grab to pick up the die, but will also release it when it touches down on the dot of glue applied to the landing zone on the board.

If you’re into this sort of thing you should check out the PCB factory tour we saw a couple of years back. The article link is dead but the embedded tour video still works.

[Thanks pl]

Encrypted drive attack hints at original Xbox hacking

[Thice] discovered a vulnerability in encrypted portable storage a few years ago. He’s just pointing about the exploit now. He mentions that he notified manufacturers long ago and we’d guess the wait to publish is to give them a chance to patch the exploit.

He calls it the Plug-Over Attack and for those who were involved with original Xbox hacking, this technique will sound very familiar. The Xbox used hard drive keys to lock the device when not in use. When you booted up the console it checked the hardware signature to make sure it was talking to the right motherboard. But if you booted up the device, then swapped the IDE cable over to a computer without cutting the power you could access the drive without having the password.

This attack is pretty much the same thing. Plug in a drive, unlock it on the victim system the normal way, then replug into the attacking system. In the image above you can see that a USB hub will work for this, but you can also use a hacked USB cable that patches a second jack into the power rail. For some reason the encryption system isn’t able to lock itself when the USB enumerates on the new system, only when power is cycled. Some of them have a timer which watches for drive idle but that still doesn’t protect from this exploit.

Dead HDD smartphone stand still holds secret data

We’ve actually got a few dead hard drives collecting dust so when we hear about a project that finds a use for one we perk up a bit. But we were somewhat disappointed when we discovered this was a smartphone stand, pen holder, and LED lamp in one. We just don’t have a use for this kind of triple-tasker. But wait… the dead drive has a secret. It still serves as data storage, if you know how to enabling the drive within.

As you can seen, [Samimiy] removed all the guts of the HDD, repurposing the platters and mounting brackets as the phone holder, and mounting plate for a couple handfuls of LEDs. The lamp portion can be adjusted thanks to the articulated based from a small desk lamp he had in his parts bin. The device receives power from the USB connector you can see in the upper right. That’s where the first part of the secret comes in. This isn’t just supplying power, it provides a USB connection to the thumb drive hidden inside the HDD case. But just connecting it to your computer won’t mount it. [Samimy] took the light sensor from an automatic nightlight and set it up below the pen holder. If you shine a flashlight down the hole in that piece of wood it will routed power to the secret USB drive causing it to enumerate on your system. Pretty clever! Take a look at his build video after the break.

We wonder if there’s a way to incorporate this light-based lock system into that mouse-mounted thumb drive.

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Contest entry roulette

Over 150 projects made from scrap parts (translated) have been posted for your viewing pleasure. They make up the entries in the “Make fast the scrap” project from c’t magazine. We already looked in on a toilet paper printer, but there’s a ton of other fun stuff to look at as well.

Every time you load the link at the top, the page picks a different set of entries to display. You can click through all the pages, or reload to play a little project roulette. The image above shows three that caught our eye. To the upper right is a lighbulb-man riding an old computer mouse reverse-cowgirl style. Quirky, but anyone who has access to an electroplating setup can get away with making simple objects like this into awesome desktop sculptures.

Moving clockwise we have a tiny USB drive mated with an old vacuum tube. The machine translation is a bit rough, but it looks like the LED from the thumb drive gives the tube a bit of a red glow. We just think it’s interesting to carry around a vacuum tube with you.

The final banner image shows a gyroscope for a camcorder. This is an awesome setup, which you can see in action after the break. A pair of broken hard drives provide motion stabilization for a camera. The entire assembly has a handle on the top with a universal joint. When the drives are spinning, the platform holds very still, even if the operator is swinging the unit around wildly.

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USB mouse with storage added

[Thice] wanted to try his hand at incorporating a USB driving into other devices. He chose to add storage to his USB mouse but didn’t want to alter the factory look provided by a color-changing LED inside. To make things fit he ended up cutting a good portion of a USB hub’s circuit board off and placing it beneath the mouse circuitry. You can see the board from the thumb drive wedged into one end of the case in the image above.

He sees this as a way of hiding data in plain sight. This is true, and it’s along the same lines we’ve seen before with a WiFi dongle in a mouse, or the thumbdrive in a controller hacks. To be truly hidden we’d like to see someone incorporate a microcontroller that monitors the mouse buttons for a certain code, and then toggles the voltage to the USB storage. This would simulate plugging and unplugging the drive, hiding it virtually as well as physically.