A TEMPEST in a Dongle

If a couple of generations of spy movies have taught us anything, it’s that secret agents get the best toys. And although it may not be as cool as a radar-equipped Aston Martin or a wire-flying rig for impossible vault heists, this DIY TEMPEST system lets you snoop on computers using secondary RF emissions.

If the term TEMPEST sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve covered it before. [Elliot Williams] gave an introduction to the many modalities that fall under the TEMPEST umbrella, the US National Security Agency’s catch-all codename for bridging air gaps by monitoring the unintended RF, light, or even audio emissions of computers. And more recently, [Brian Benchoff] discussed a TEMPEST hack that avoided the need for thousands of dollars of RF gear, reducing the rig down to an SDR dongle and a simple antenna. There’s even an app for that now: TempestSDR, a multiplatform Java app that lets you screen scrape a monitor based on its RF signature. Trouble is, getting the app running on Windows machines has been a challenge, but RTL-SDR.com reader [flatfishfly] solved some of the major problems and kindly shared the magic. The video below shows TempestSDR results; it’s clear that high-contrast images at easiest to snoop on, but it shows that a $20 dongle and some open-source software can bridge an air gap. Makes you wonder what’s possible with deeper pockets.

RF sniffing is only one of many ways to exfiltrate data from an air-gapped system. From power cords to security cameras, there seems to be no end to the ways to breach systems.

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Mechanical Build Lets You Jump Cacti in Real Life

Simple to learn, hard to master, a lifetime to kick the habit. This applies to a lot of computer games, but the T-rex Runner game for Chrome and its various online versions are particularly insidious. So much so that the game drove one couple to build a real-world version of the digital game.

For those not familiar with the game, it’s a simple side-scroller where the goal is to jump and duck a running dinosaur over and under obstacles — think Flappy Birds, but faster paced. When deciding on a weekend hackathon project, [Uri] thought a real-life version of the game would be a natural fit, since he was already a fan of the digital version. With his girlfriend [Ariella] on the team, [Uri] was able to come up with a minimally playable version of the game, with a stepper motor providing the dino jumps and a simple straight conveyor moving the obstacles. People enjoyed it enough that version 2.0 was planned for the Chrome Developer Summit. This version was much more playable, with an oval track for the obstacles and better scorekeeping. [Uri] and [Ariella] had to expand their skills to complete the build — PCB design, E-Paper displays, laser cutting, and even metal casting were all required. The video below shows the final version — but where are the pterosaurs to duck?

Real-world jumping dinos aren’t the first physical manifestation of a digital game. As in the cyber world, Pong was first — either as an arcade version or a supersized outdoor game.

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Hackaday Links: November 26, 2017

Hey, it’s sometime between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We’re blowing out everything in the Hackaday Store. There’s some great deals in there. Tindie, our lovable robot dog is also heading up hundreds of Tindie deals for Cyber Monday. If you want some electronic stuff direct from the people who make it, this is the sale to check out.

Looking for some other Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales? Adafruit has compiled a list of retailers so I don’t have to. Thanks, Phil. There are deals from Lulzbot to Makerbot, LittleBits to Sparkfun.

The engineer responsible for Dieselgate has been sentenced to 40 months in prison. There are two takeaways from this: 1) The Nuremberg Defense doesn’t work. 2) Don’t build a business plan around breaking the law, despite what the libertarian hellscape of Hacker News tells you.

The theme for next year’s DEF CON has been announced. It’s, “1983”. What does that mean? Brutalist architecture, first of all. They’re also going for a ‘year before 1984’ thing, where everyone installs always-on, far-field microphones in their house and connects them to the Internet. In other news, Alexas and Google Homes are on sale this Black Friday. Big props for the official DEF CON style guide with typefaces and colors, though.

Over on Hackaday.io, [Frank] has created a very interesting and very cool game for the Vectrex. It’s called Bloxorz, and you can think of it as a cross between Marble Madness and Q*Bert. It’s a puzzle game, and now it’s a project on Kickstarter. Want to check out what this game looks like? Take a look at the video. It’s big into the tradition of early-90s puzzle games (a genre we wish would come back), and if I had a Vectrex, I’d buy one.

I told you SparkleCon tickets are on sale, right?

Here’s an argument you can settle. What is the grit designation of sandpaper? Sandpaper comes in various grits, from 60 (very coarse) to 1500, 2000, and 6000 (for polishing, basically). Here’s a question: how are these numbers derived? I have a vague memory from my youth where someone who probably didn’t know what they were talking about said grit sizes are the number of abrasive particles per some unit of area. A 60-grit sandpaper would have sixty particles of aluminum oxide per square quarter inch, for example. This sounds too stupid to be correct, doesn’t fit with the mesh sizes of different grades of sandpaper, and a cursory Googling does not tell me how sandpaper grit sizes are derived. What say you, Hackaday peanut gallery? Where do the numbers on the back of a sheet of sandpaper actually come from?

Protect Your TS100 Soldering Iron

The TS100 is a compact temperature-controlled soldering iron that’s long on features without too eye-watering a price. One thing it lacks as shipped though is anything to protect it from the thumps and bumps of everyday life in a toolbox, save for its elegant cardboard-and-foam retail box which requires iron and element/bit to be separated.

[Jeremy S. Cook] has a TS100, and decided to do something about it with a bit of work that may be quite simple but should be something that all TS100 owners take a look at. He made a very tough carrying container for it from a length of PVC pipe lined with the foam from the iron’s retail package. His short video which we’ve placed below the break takes us through the build, which bits of the packaging foam to cut, and uses a pair of PVC end caps to terminate the container. It’s not high-tech by any means, but enough of you will have TS100 irons to appreciate it.

You can read our review of the TS100 if you are interested, or you can marvel at the additions people have done to its software. Tetris, for example, or a working digital oscilloscope. Meanwhile [Jeremy] is an old friend of Hackaday, whose many projects include this recent unholy hybrid of fidget spinner and multirotor.

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Start Tracking Satellites with This Low-Cost Azimuth-Elevation Positioner

Tracking satellites and the ISS is pretty easy. All you really need is an SDR dongle or a handheld transceiver, a simple homebrew antenna, and a clear view of the sky. Point the antenna at the passing satellite and you’re ready to listen, or if you’re a licensed amateur, talk. But the tedious bit is the pointing. Standing in a field or on top of a tall building waving an antenna around gets tiring, and unless you’re looking for a good arm workout, limits the size of your antenna. Which is where this two-axis antenna positioner could come in handy.

While not quite up to the job it was originally intended for — positioning a 1.2-meter dish antenna — [Manuel] did manage to create a pretty capable azimuth-elevation positioner for lightweight antennas. What’s more, he did it on the cheap — only about €150. His design seemed like it was going in the right direction, with a sturdy aluminum extrusion frame and NEMA23 steppers. But the 3D-printed parts turned out to be the Achille’s heel. At the 1:40 mark in the video below (in German with English subtitles), the hefty dish antenna is putting way too much torque on the bearings, delaminating the bearing mount. But with a slender carbon-fiber Yagi, the positioner shines. The Arduino running the motion control talks GS232, so it can get tracking data directly from the web to control the antenna in real time.

Here’s hoping [Manuel] solves some of the mechanical issues with his build. Maybe he can check out this hefty dish positioner for weather satellite tracking for inspiration.

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Tindie’s Cyber Monday Deals

The holiday season is upon us, so you know what that means. It’s time to consume! Whether that means large quantities of carbohydrates or consumer electronics, ’tis the season to buy, buy, buy.

Hundreds of Tindie items are on sale right now, and everyone will find something unique, cutting edge, and sold by the people who designed it. Tindie is artisanal electronics with a cute robot dog mascot. It can’t get any better than that.

These discounts are offered by the great DIY hardware creators themselves, the ones who are making cool stuff that you want. What’s that, you say? It’s neither Black Friday nor Cyber Monday right now? It doesn’t matter, this sale started on Black Friday and will last until at least Mail Order Tuesday.

What’s cool on Tindie? Everything! There are button breakouts for old-school brick Game Boys, space chicken stickers from the guy that built the ESP8266 Deauther, a tiny digital audio player, track ocean vessels with the dAISy AIS receiver, or learn to solder with this blinky fire engine kit.

If you’re looking for even more deals, the Hackaday Store is blowing out everything. It’s a literal fire sale after I suggested deep frying the bird this year.

Finally, A Fidget Spinner We Can Love

We’ve been frankly mystified at the popularity of fidget spinners. After all, we can flip an ink pen around just fine. However, [MakersBox] just sold us on what he calls the geek spinner. The fact that the spinner is actually a PCB and has parts on it, would probably have been cool enough. However, the spinner also has a persistence of vision LED set up and can display 12 characters of text as it spins. Because the board is simple and uses through hole components, it would be a great project for a budding young hacker. You can see a video below.

The instructions are geared towards someone attempting their first project, too. If you know how to solder and insert a DIP IC, you might find you’ll skim them, but it is pretty straightforward. The 8 LEDs on one side operate from an ATTiny CPU, which you can program with an Arduino. The spinner has a hall effect sensor and a magnet to figure out the index position of the spin — crucial for displaying text.

Although the board attempts to balance the components, the battery side is apparently a little heavy. The suggestion is to add some weight using some hardware or solder to that side. Speaking of solder, the bearing in the center solders to the PCB. That’s going to take a lot of heat, so maybe you can finally use Dad’s soldering gun that has been gathering dust under your bench.

We liked the polar graph provided to help you set up the code for your own messages. The text implies there is a picture of one of these graphs filled out, but we think he forgot to include that picture. However, it is clear enough how to use it, and it would make it very easy to make your own text or any design that the spinner could produce.

This isn’t the first POV spinner, by the way. [MakersBox] has a nice set of acknowledgments for projects he’s seen or borrowed from, but the other one he mentions uses surface mount. Granted, surface mount isn’t a problem for most people these days, but starting out, it might be nice to stick with a through-hole design. If you want a more useful spinner, you can always make some music.

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