Linux-Fu: Making AWK A Bit Easier

awk is a kind of Swiss Army knife for text files. However, some of its limitations are often a bit annoying. I’ve used a simple set of functions to make awk a bit better, although I will warn you: it does require GNU extensions to awk. That is, you must use gawk and not other versions. Your system probably maps /usr/bin/awk to something and that something might be gawk. But it could also be mawk or some other flavor. If you use a Debian-based distro, update-alternatives is your friend here. But for the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume you are using gawk.

By the end of the post, you’ll see how to use my awk add-on functions to split up a line into fields even when there is no single character to separate all fields. In addition, you’ll be able to refer to the fields using names you decide. You won’t have to remember that $2 is the time field. You’ll say Fields_fields["time"] instead.

The Problem

awk does a lot of common work for you when you use it to process text files. It reads files a record at a time. Normally, a record is a single line. Then it splits the line on fields using whitespace, or some other choice of field separators. You can write code that manipulates the line or individual fields. This default behavior is great, especially since you can change the end of record character and the field separator. A surprising number of files fit this sort of format.

Until, of course, they don’t. If you have data coming from a data logging instrument or some database, it could be formatted in a variety of ways. Some fields might have structured data with a variety of separators. This isn’t a deal-breaker. Since you can get at the whole line, you can do almost anything you want, but the logic is harder and the whole point to using awk is to make things easier.

For example, suppose you had a file from a data recorder that had an eight-digit serial number, followed by a six-character tag, and then two floating point numbers separated by colons. The pattern might look like


This would be hard to handle with the conventional field splitting and you’d normally just write code to split everything apart.

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WiFi Hacking Mr. Coffee

You wake up on a Sunday, roll out of bed, and make your way to the centerpiece of your morning, the magical device that helps you start your day: the coffee machine. You open the companion app, because everything has an app in 2020, and select a large latte with extra froth. As you switch open a browser to check Hackaday, the machine beeps. Then the built-in grinder cranks up to 100, the milk frother begins to whir, and the machine starts spraying water. Frantic, you look at the display for an error code and instead see a message instructing you to send $75 to a bitcoin wallet, lest your $300 machine become a doorstop.

Outlandish though it may seem, this has become quite a real possibility, as [Martin Hron] at the Avast Threat Labs demonstrates. In fact, he could probably make your modern macchiato machine do this without setting foot in your house (so long as it comes with a built-in ESP8266, like his did).

Building on others’ work that identified the simple commands that control the machine over it’s WiFi connection (nothing says “brew me a nice cup o’ joe” like 0x37), [Martin] reverse-engineered the Smarter Coffee companion app to extract and reverse engineer its firmware. He was actually able to find the entire firmware image packaged within the app- relatively uncommon in the world of Over-The-Air (OTA) updates, but convenient in this case. Using Interactive Disassembler (IDA) to sift through the firmware’s inner workings, he identified the functions that handle all basic operations, including displaying images on the screen, controlling the heating elements, and of course, beeping. From there, he modified the stock firmware image to include some malicious commands and ran an OTA update.

The mind-boggling part here is that not only was the firmware transmitted as unencrypted plaintext over unsecured WiFi, but the machine didn’t even require a user to confirm the update with a button press. With one quick reboot, the trap was set. The machine operated normally, while waiting for “Order 66,” causing it to turn all the heating elements on, spool up the built-in grinder, and beep. Constantly.

While a broken coffee machine seems relatively innocuous, there are some pretty significant lapses in hardware/firmware security here that, while avoidable, almost seem unnecessary in the first place. It makes us wonder- why does Mr. Coffee need a smartphone in the first place?

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Bunnie’s Betrusted Makes First Appearance As Mobile, FPGA-Based SoC Development Kit

Recently, [Bunnie Huang] announced his Precursor project: a spiffy-looking case housing a PCB with two FPGAs, a display, battery and integrated keyboard. For those who have seen [bunnie]’s talk at 36C3 last year, the photos may look very familiar, as it is essentially the same hardware as the ‘Betrusted’ project is intended to use. This also explains the name, with this development kit being a ‘precursor’ to the Betrusted product.

In short, it’s a maximally open, verifiable, and trustworthy device. Even the processor is instantiated on an FPGA so you know what’s going on inside the silicon.

He has set up a Crowd Supply page for the Precursor project, which provides more details. The board features a Xilinx Spartan 7 (XC7S50) and Lattice iCE40UP5K FPGA, 16 MB SRAM, 128 MB Flash, integrated WiFi (Silicon Labs WF200-based), a physical keyboard and 1100 mAh Lio-Ion battery. The display is a 200 ppi monochrome 336 x 536 px unit, with both the display and keyboard backlit.

At this point [bunnie] is still looking at how much interest there will be for Precursor if a campaign goes live. Regardless of whether one has any interest in the anti-tamper and security features, depending on the price it might be a nice, integrated platform to tinker with.