Inside An Amateur Bugging Device

[Mitch] got interested in the S8 “data line locator” so he did the work to tear into its hardware and software. If you haven’t seen these, they appear to be a USB cable. However, inside the USB plug is a small GSM radio that allows you to query the device for its location, listen on a tiny microphone, or even have it call you back when it hears something. The idea is that you plug the cable into your car charger and a thief would never know it was a tracking device. Of course, you can probably think of less savory uses despite the warning on Banggood:

Please strictly abide by the relevant laws of the state, shall not be used for any illegal use of this product, the consequences of the use of self conceit.

We aren’t sure what the last part means, but we are pretty sure people can and will use these for no good, so it is interesting to see what they contain.

The device is really simple inside, containing just two ICs. One is a CPU and the other a GSM phone. [Mitch] found a simple OS that targeted the CPU and was able to use that to dump the Flash contents. He could not figure out how to write to it however. Glancing through the dumps though, it seems it uses Nucleus as an operating system. He examined it using a variety of interesting techniques and tools, so even if you don’t care about this device in particular you still might enjoy the process.

[Mitch] notes some similar hardware in leaked NSA documents. People are worried about the Amazon Echo listening. Maybe it would be a good idea to scan your USB cables. Bugging tech has certainly come a long way.

32 thoughts on “Inside An Amateur Bugging Device

  1. Am sure Al Williams knows that, and that’s why he doesn’t even try. He was just stating a fact, and that fact is that it is indeed hard to understand the last part. You know, being so bitter and thin-skinned in a world that is reaching 8 billion people and diversity is thriving is going to take a toll on your health. Just saying, not that I care.

    1. No. Like the Chinese, you first figure how a better translation and higher cost would affect your sales. In most cases customers like a better translation, but throw that out the window when a competing product is 1 cent cheaper.

  2. Nice to see a rational date format printed on the circuit board, even though it looks grotty enough to be from the 70s. Even I was making better looking boards than that in 1982 though, granted, BGAs and 0402 packages didn’t exist then…

    1. I think it looks pretty good…think of the budget they’re probably working with. The big ICs are ringed with their decouplers and crystals, it looks like the power traces run around the outside with those big diodes, there are pogo pads for major points…

      It’s not, like, STYLISH. But it doesn’t look bad to me

      1. That’s the thing…
        We can all have pretty colours and nice curves on everything… but it is a toy if it doesn’t at least look sturdy nor look professional. Having aluminium galvanized to any colour is fine… nice flat surfaces with a gentle curvature for comfort when handling… fine… but:

        Imagine going to your local bank and their printer was a fisherprice “curves and pretty colours” super compact mess, and, their PCs all being V-Tech or something?
        That would look so out of place. Nothing against such vanity-accessory things, but at least build them things stronger! Nothing so great than advising a friend they need a new laptop, even after repair attempts, and they just say it probably wasn’t fixed properly… despite being explained.

        I’d take the industrial/business grade over the pretty/glitter/shiny/”wow”/cool-factor version anytime!

        1. “Imagine going to your local bank”

          I’m trying, but I can’t seem to find the need to. I could care less what sort of alienware computers they use, because I’m not there to look at it – I pay my bills online.

          1. OK, imagine that on-line bank gets hacked and you’ve been targeted by someone that developed a personal grudge against you… for whatever petty reason they have…. and you get dragged into court:
            A nice clean court with that polished oak furnishings et al…
            Yet the judge pull out a bright pink laptop with broken hinges held together with gaffer tape and has a cord with frayed wires wrapped in clear tape.

            I’ve got news for you, That judge is desperate to get a bribe off the bank and I’d think HIM and HIS PINK fisherprice toy laptop is gonna be bias and you’ll loose the case.
            That is why the more professional looking stuff exists, otherwise ask the judge if they have the paperwork to declare their position of power (Law category dependent… i.e. works in correct courts and gets a contempt sentence if used in the wrong courts)… It may be good to use a delay tactic, “Not enough time to find the evidence in my defense”. Usually if done early in the case, then another judge (looking more professional) gets assigned to the case (Due to no relevant info being heard by the original judge).

          2. In other words, If I got a HP Stream 11-y000na… then I know as soon a a web site (Think youtube, soundcloud etc) decides to throttle certain content or goes glitchy/buggy/etc… then within seconds that laptop gets an instant one-foot disassembly and reduced to sub-atomic shards, Because it doesn’t feel/look/behave like a serious laptop.
            I know, because I got such a toy from social workers because they didn’t want to spend a tenner extra (Nor allow me to contribute an extra tenner), and the first aggravating issue that happened saw the thing become the negative mould of my knee and the leg part above and below said knee.

            On the other hand, the Dell latitude series and the (Older) HP Elitebook series, the Lenovo T-series and the X-series are real laptops. Then there are the high-end machines.
            The worst I’ve done to my E6400 is slam the lid shut, left it aside and forgot about it for the day… I’ve accidentally dropped it , knocked it on the sides of things, carried it in a backpack when biking all over the city… etc and yet it holds up very strong.

  3. Chinese words are like bricks; it’s actually sort of similar to English in that you can hammer words together any old how and still mostly be understood.

    It’s like Bucky says: “you can verb anything if you just word it.”

    1. Found a good use: monitoring your bickering children.
      Let them know “the walls have ears, ya know!… You two better get along now, or I’ll find out right away”.
      They’ll learn very fast the rooms are bugged… about as much of a bug as a baby monitor to help you keep an eye/ear out for your newly born family member.

          1. Mom is always Mom. And yes, I would listen to and respect her, My Dad died 2 years later. Same respect for him. Parents are amazing. They give their lives for these little ones. Proud to be dad for my 25 and 27 year olds. They respect me and my respect for them increases every day.

  4. this $9 “GSM Moniter Line GPS Locator USB Cable Pick-up Data Line for Android Phone” has same guts as $6 “Global Locator Mini Time Car A8 GSM/GPRS/GPS Tracking Tracker USB Cable Funny” (“funny” is a nice touch in item name).
    There is no GPS inside, location is thru celltower identifier and LAC (Location Area Code)
    free website you can look up this info

    this analysis is somewhat poorly researched, author didnt even get command syntax right (need commas between parameters when setting server address/apn)
    you can even buy bare pcb version of this device under “ChonChow 38*21mm Mini GPS GSM Tracker PCB Board with Antenna Microphone Micro USB Charge port SMS GPRS Free APP and Platform” on aliexpress.

    at $6 this is a great tinkering platform, would be nice to have free software firmware built.

    1. Hi rasz_pl,

      could you please elaborate on the correct syntax?
      Let’s say I want to set the server to and port 90 what SMS would I need to send?

      I tried all combinations:

      Nothing causes a connection to on port 90, though.



  5. That might be true, but their English translator seems to be much worse than my Chinese translator.

    IOW: if you’re selling a product to country X, you better hire a good translator to country X’s language to do the job.

    Yeah, yeah. Cost cutting and that. We consider ourselves as “engineers”. It’s our responsibility to lobby society that there’s a place for decently paid good jobs, which is what’s missing above.

    That a random Chinese speaks English way better than I do Chinese is very true, but not the point. It’s not her or his job, and *that’s* the point.

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