ESP32 Pretends To Be GPU; Gives You A Ransomware Scare

Picture of a monitor with a fake "ransomware" banner on it, and a PC with the ESP32 VGA devboard mounted into it in the foreground

Sometimes a piece of hardware meets a prank idea, and that’s how the fun Hackaday articles are born. [AnotherMaker] shows us some harmless entertainment at the expense of an IT enthusiast in your life – programming an ESP32-powered devboard with a VGA output to show an ever-feared “all your files are encrypted” screen on a monitor connected to it. The ASCII text in its 8-bit glory helps sell this prank, making it look exactly like a BIOS-hijacking piece of malware it claims to be; akin to UIs of the past that skilled hackers would whip up in x86 assembly. The devboard’s integration into a PCI card backplate is a cherry on top, a way to seamlessly integrate this into a PC case, making it look not particularly different from an old graphics card. In such a configuration, we don’t doubt that this would be a head-scratcher to a certain kind of an IT department worker.

If you already have someone in mind as a target for this prank, you’re in luck, since [AnotherMaker] has shared his source code, too, and all you need is a ESP32 with a VGA port set up. You can get the same devboard, or you can even solder it all together with an ESP32 breakout and resistors, if you’re on a time or money budget, since the schematics for the LilyGO devboard are public. Not all devboards gets such a fun application, but it’s always fun to see when someone thinks of one – a perfect prank scenario that calls for a very specific devboard.

Wondering how it’s even possible to output VGA from the ESP32? We’ve covered this in the past – like this R&D project done by [bitluni], who then went ahead and expanded on it by connecting six displays at once. If you’ve connected your ESP32 to a VGA port and ran some test sketches, a UI library will help you upgrade your idea into a ready project in no time.

27 thoughts on “ESP32 Pretends To Be GPU; Gives You A Ransomware Scare

    1. Do pay attention! This thing advertises itself as a BIOS-modifying virus, and with modularity of modern UEFI, it seems to be easy to do whatever it is that you’d like to do, including blanking out the POST screen, hijacking it or whatever else. However, it’s also fine for a prank to be noticeable once you pay a bit of attention, lest it drags on for too long!

    1. Oh, I would be firmly against a prank costing someone a week’s worth of work. You have a wildly unrealistic estimate here, however – this prank takes 5 seconds to reverse and doesn’t modify the computer in any permanent way. Plus, it’s common courtesy for a prankster to help the person being pranked in reversing the consequences.

      1. A prank is a waste of time and malicious. I once warned a colleague about his April 1 plan to put scotch tape on the optical mouse windows of a bunch of engineers. He did it anyway and the next day didn’t think to come in early just in case. Fifteen mechanical engineers sat around for two hours on the clock because they didn’t find the tape. He thought for sure they would find the tape and get a laugh. But that didn’t happen. Instead they waited around two hours for IT to come in at 8am. Let’s just say he made fools of them, but he didn’t make any friends that day in management.

        Never unnecessarily test the competence of your peers.

        1. Heavily depends! Any prank (or joke, for that matter) has the risk of you offending people, being misunderstood, wasting someone’s time, and forth and so on. Please do exercise caution and manage your risks, i.e. come in early if warranted!

  1. It is a good thing this “prank” requires obsolete and mostly unused technology as I doubt many would think it was actually funny. Pranksters should stick to Vaseline on door knobs and stretch wrap on toilets.

  2. Interesting from a technical point of view, but as a human capable of experiencing empathy I think that the use of such a device constitutes psychological abuse and should not be encouraged. Is there anything more humane that can be done with exactly the same methods?

    1. You can literally put anything on the screen. I give the code so you can be as diabolical or as fun as you want. You can use this same tech to put a message on your spouse’s computer that says Honey, I love you. Or, as I do in th previous video, you can turn it into a Commodore Vic-20.

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