Project 54/74 Maps out Logic ICs

Integrated circuits are a fundamental part of almost all modern electronics, yet they closely resemble the proverbial “black box” – we may understand the inputs and outputs, but how many of us truly understand what goes on inside? Over the years, the process of decapping ICs has become popular – the removal of the package to enable peeping eyes to glimpse the mysteries inside. It’s an art that requires mastery of chemistry, microscopy and photography on top of the usual physics skills needed to understand electronics. Done properly, it allows an astute mind to reverse engineer the workings of the silicon inside.

There are many out there publishing images of chips they’ve decapped, but [Robert Baruch] wants more. Namely, [Robert] seeks to create a database of die images of all 5400 and 7400 series logic chips – the eponymous Project 54/74.

These chips are the basic building blocks of digital logic – NAND gates, inverters, shift registers, decade counters and more. You can build a CPU with this stuff. These days, you may not be using these chips as often in a production context, but those of you with EE degrees will likely have toyed around a few of these in your early logic classes.

There’s only a handful of images up so far, but they’re of excellent quality, and they’re also annotated. This is a great aid if you’re trying to get to grips with the vagaries of chip design. [Robert] is putting in the hard yards to image as many variations of every chip as possible. There’s also the possibility of comparing the same chip for differences between manufacturers. We particularly like this project, as all too often manufacturing techniques and technologies are lost and forgotten as the march of progress continues on. It looks like it’s going to become a great resource for those looking to learn more about integrated circuit design and manufacture!

EDM for the Cheap and Adventurous

Laser cutters, waterjets, plasma cutters, CNC routers – most hackerspaces and even many dedicated home-gamers seem to have some kind of fancy tool for cutting sheet goods into intricate shapes. But with no access to a CNC machine and a need to cut a complex shape from sheet metal, [AlchemistDagger] cooked up this bare-bones and somewhat dangerous EDM rig to get the job done.

Electric discharge machining has been around for decades and is used a lot for harder metals like titanium and tool steel. The process makes sense to anyone who has seen contacts pitted and corroded by repeated arcing – an electric arc is used to remove metal from the workpiece, with a dielectric fluid used to cool the workpiece and flush away debris. For [AlchemistDagger]’s purposes, a lot of the complicated refinements, like high-frequency power supplies and precise tool positioning, were ignored. He built a simple linear slide to manually control the tool position, and the power supply was just a bridge rectifier connected to the 120-volt mains with some filter capacitors and a big light bulb as a ballast resistor. While the video below shows electrical conduit being notched, [AlchemistDagger] also made a brass cookie-cutter style tool to cut the Instructables logo from steel.

Obviously, mixing water and electricity is a recipe for disaster is you’re not careful, but this low-end EDM technique is a good one to file away for a rainy day. And if you’re looking for a little more sophistication in your homebrew EDM rig, we’ve got you covered there too. Continue reading “EDM for the Cheap and Adventurous”

How to Trick Your Electrical Meter By Saving Power

A group of Dutch scientists have been testing out some of today’s “smart” electrical meters to check their accuracy, among other things. Not ones to disappoint, the scientists have found consistently false readings that in some cases are 582% higher than actual energy consumption.

With experiments lasting for six months, the researchers tried to focus on meters representative of those commonly used in the Netherlands and manufactured between 2004 and 2014. Moreover, the researchers tried to reproduce standard household energy consumption patters rather than focusing on stress tests.

Their results? Well, “results varied wildly, with some meters reporting errors way above their disclosed range, going from -32% to +582%. Tests with uncommon results were repeated several times and the results were within a few percents of the original.” Moreover, “The greatest inaccuracies were seen when researchers combined dimmers with energy saving light bulbs and LED bulbs.” Not constrained to energy saving light bulbs, the inaccuracies are, ironically, tied to devices with integrated energy saving features. (Certainly makes us want to keep a close eye on our electric meters.)

“The reason for faulty readings appears to be the current sensor, and the associated circuitry,” said researchers. “The experimental results […] show that static energy meters can be pushed into faulty reading (positive and negative) if sufficiently fast pulsed currents are drawn by the consumer”

It is worth noting that there is contradictory research published by “the European voice of the providers of smart energy solutions” that maintains that “there is no reason to question smart metering technology”. Still, we wouldn’t blame you if you wanted a second opinion.

Thanks [acs] for sending this in!

Gigabytes the Dust with UEFI Vulnerabilities

At this year’s BlackHat Asia security conference, researchers from Cylance disclosed two potentially fatal flaws in the UEFI firmware of Gigabyte BRIX small computers which allow a would-be attacker unfettered low-level access to the computer.

Gigabyte has been working on a fix since the start of 2017. Gigabyte are preparing to release firmware updates as a matter of urgency to only one of the affected models — GB-BSi7H-6500 (firmware vF6), while leaving the — GB-BXi7-5775 (firmware vF2) unpatched as it has reached it’s end of life. We understand that support can’t last forever, but if you sell products with such a big fault from the factory, it might be worth it to fix the problem and keep your reputation.

The two vulnerabilities that have been discovered seem like a massive oversight from Gigabyte, They didn’t enable write protection for their UEFI (CVE-2017-3197), and seem to have thrown cryptography out of the window when it comes to signing their UEFI files (CVE-2017-3198). The latter vulnerability is partly due to not verifying a checksum or using HTTPS in the firmware update process, instead using its insecure sibling HTTP. CERT has issued an official vulnerability note (VU#507496) for both flaws.

Attackers may exploit the vulnerabilities to execute unsigned code in System Management Mode (SMM), planting whatever malware they like into the low level workings of the computer. Cylance explain a possible scenario as follows:

The attacker gains user-mode execution through an application vulnerability such as a browser exploit or a malicious Word document with an embedded script. From there, the attacker elevates his privileges by exploiting the kernel or a kernel module such as Capcom.sys to execute code in ring 0. A vulnerable SMI handler allows the attacker to execute code in SMM mode (ring -2) where he finally can bypass any write protection mechanisms and install a backdoor into the system’s firmware.

With all this said, it does raise some interesting opportunities for the hacker community. We wonder if anyone will come up with a custom UEFI for the Brix since Gigabyte left the keys in the door.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Micro Matrix Charlieplexed Displays

If you need a very thin, low power display that doesn’t use a whole bunch of pins on your microcontroller, [bobricius] has just the thing for you. His entry to the Hackaday Prize this year is a Charlieplexed LED display. With this board, you can drive 110 LEDs using only 11 GPIO pins.

Charlieplexing is a bit of a dark art around these parts. That’s not to say the theory is difficult; it’s really just sourcing or sinking current from a GPIO pin and arranging LEDs unparallel to each other. The theory is one thing, implementation is another. To build a Charlieplexed LED matrix, you need to go a bit crazy with the PCB layout, and god help you if you’re doing this point-to-point on a perf board.

Somehow, [bobricius] managed to fit 110 LEDs on a PCB, all while managing to break out those signal wires to a sensible set of pads on one side of the board. Only eleven pins are required to drive all these LEDs, making this project a great foundation for some very cool wearables or other projects that require a bright, low-res display.

Since [bobricius] can put 110 LEDs on a small board, he can obviously take LEDs away from that board. That’s what he did with his cut down version designed to be a clock. Both are great little boards, and the perfect solution for tiny displays for low-pin-count micros.

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: Micro Matrix Charlieplexed Displays”

The Shocking Truth About Transformerless Power Supplies

Transformerless power supplies are showing up a lot here on Hackaday, especially in inexpensive products where the cost of a transformer would add significantly to the BOM. But transformerless power supplies are a double-edged sword. That title? Not clickbait. Poking around in a transformerless-powered device can turn your oscilloscope into a smoking pile or get you electrocuted if you don’t understand them and take proper safety precautions.

But this isn’t a scare piece. Transformerless designs are great in their proper place, and you’re probably going to encounter one someday because they’re in everything from LED lightbulbs to IoT WiFi switches. We’re going to look at how they work, and how to design and work on them safely, because you never know when you might want to hack on one.

Here’s the punchline: transformerless power supplies are safely useable only in situations where the entire device can be enclosed and nobody can accidentally come in contact with any part of it. That means no physical electrical connections in or out — RF and IR are fair game. And when you work with one, you have to know that any part of the circuit can be at mains voltage. Now read on to see why!

Continue reading “The Shocking Truth About Transformerless Power Supplies”

Canary for USB Ports

If you’re a paranoid system admin, [errbufferoverfl] has your back with software that keeps track of whenever someone plugs in or disconnects an USB-based device from a workstation.

Christened USB Canary, [errbufferoverfl’s] tool is written in Python. However, even though Python is cross-platform, USB Canary only works on Linux currently. But, fret not: [errbufferoverfl] is already working on Windows and Mac versions.

Primarily, USB Canary watches USB connectors for any activity and logs anything it sees. Moreover, when a USB device is plugged in or unplugged, USB Canary can alert the owner of the workstation via an SMS message courtesy of the Twilio API, post a message in a Slack channel or even make a noise to alert a nearby sysadmin. Additionally, USB Canary can be configured to only run when the workstation is locked (if you’re not completely paranoid).

[errbufferoverfl’s] USB Canary was born out of dissatisfaction with current workstation monitoring tools. You see, most tools only notify users after someone has logged on. [errbufferoverfl] points out that there are means to automate attacks without logging in, and we can think of many unsavory things that can be done when logged out.

While USB Canary won’t protect you from -220V , it might at least warn of a BadUSB attack. But, for the really paranoid, why not try GoodUSB?

[via bleepingcomputer]