Gen Tojo’s Teeth: Morse Code Shows Up In The Strangest Places

The Baader-Meinhof effect is the common name for what scientists call frequency illusion. Suppose you are watching Star Trek’s Christopher Pike explain how he makes pasta mama, and you’ve never heard of it before. Immediately after that, you’ll hear about pasta mama repeatedly. You’ll see it on menus. Someone at work will talk about having it at Hugo’s. Here’s the thing. Pasta mama was there all along (and, by the way, delicious). You just started noticing it. We sometimes wonder if that’s the deal with Morse code. Once you know it, it seems to show up everywhere.

Gen. Hideki Tojo in custody in 1947

One of the strangest places we’ve ever heard of Morse code appearing is the infamous case of Tojo’s teeth. If you don’t remember, General Hideki Tojo was one of the main “bad guys” in the Pacific part of World War II. In particular, he is thought to have approved the attack on Pearl Harbor, which started the American involvement in the war globally. Turns out, Tojo would be inextricably tied to Morse code, but he probably didn’t realize it.

The Honorable Attempt

At the end of the war, the US military had a list of people they wanted to try, and Tojo was near the top of their list of 40 top-level officials. As prime minister of Japan, he had ordered the attack that brought the US into the war. He remained prime minister until 1944, when he resigned, but the US had painted him as the face of the Japanese enemy. Often shown in caricature along with Hitler and Mussolini, Tojo was the face of the Japanese war machine to most Americans.

In Allied propaganda, Tojo was one of the “big three”

When Americans tried to arrest him, though, he shot himself. However, his suicide attempt failed. Reportedly, he apologized to the American medics who resuscitated him for failing to kill himself. Held in Sugamo Prison awaiting a trial, he requested a dentist to make him a new set of dentures so he could speak clearly during the trial.

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An orange m5stickc plus strapped to a wrist in the foreground with the persons other hand pressing down on the top of an installed hat, communicating with another m5stickc plus in the background on the table.

M5StickC Turned Wearable Morse Code Trainer

Have you ever felt the options for Morse code communication were too limited? Well, look no further than [marsPRE]’s open source WristMorse┬ácommunicator that can connect over WiFi, can act as a Bluetooth keyboard or just be used as a Morse Code trainer.

a 'hat' for an m5stickc plus with a single row pin header exposted, a 2.5mm jack and two capacitive touch buttons on the top and bottom of the hat.

[marsPRE] uses the M5StickC Plus as the base device and attaches a custom “hat” consisting of a 2.5 mm plug for a radio connection and two capacitive touch paddles that act as the Morse Code keyer. The add-on is housed in what looks like a custom 3D print and hangs off of the end of the M5StickC Plus, connecting the hat through an eight 0.1 inch pin header.

Using the M5StickC Plus allows [marsPRE] to focus on the software, providing different options for training, communication and even using the device as a Bluetooth keyboard. The two touch sensors allow for a semi automatic keying, with the top sensor used for long dashes and the bottom sensor used for short dashes.

[marsPRE] took inspiration from the Morserino-32 and has made the wrist morse code trainer open source software and available through GitHub for anyone wanting to take a look. Morse code may an old encoding method but it’s one that’s worthy of respect. You never know when you might need to send a message from your dreams or to translate spoken word Morse code.

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Morse Code Clock For Training Hams

It might seem antiquated, but Morse code still has a number of advantages compared to other modes of communication, especially over radio waves. It’s low bandwidth compared to voice or even text, and can be discerned against background noise even at extremely low signal strengths. Not every regulatory agency requires amateur operators to learn Morse any more, but for those that do it can be a challenge, so [Cristiano Monteiro] built this clock to help get some practice.

The project is based around his favorite microcontroller, the PIC16F1827, and uses a DS1307 to keep track of time. A single RGB LED at the top of the project enclosure flashes the codes for hours in blue and minutes in red at the beginning of every minute, and in between flashes green for each second.

Another design goal of this build was to have it operate with as little power as possible, so with a TP4056 control board, single lithium 18650 battery, and some code optimization, [Cristiano] believes he can get around 60 days of operation between charges.

For a project to help an aspiring radio operator learn Morse, a simple build like this can go a long way. For anyone else looking to build something similar we’d note that the DS1307 has a tendency to drift fairly quickly, and something like a DS3231 or even this similar Morse code clock which uses NTP would go a long way to keeping more accurate time.

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Translating And Broadcasting Spoken Morse Code

When the first radios and telegraph lines were put into service, essentially the only way to communicate was to use Morse code. The first transmitters had extremely inefficient designs by today’s standards, so this was more a practical limitation than a choice. As the technology evolved there became less and less reason to use Morse to communicate, but plenty of amateur radio operators still use this mode including [Kevin] aka [KB9RLW] who has built a circuit which can translate spoken Morse code into a broadcasted Morse radio signal.

The circuit works by feeding the signal from a microphone into an Arduino. The Arduino listens for a certain threshold and keys the radio when it detects a word being spoken. Radio operators use the words “dit” and “dah” for dots and dashes respectively, and the Arduino isn’t really translating the words so much as it is sending a signal for the duration of however long each word takes to say. The software for the Arduino is provided on the project’s GitHub page as well, and uses a number of approaches to make sure the keyed signal is as clean as possible.

[Kevin] mentions that this device could be used by anyone who wishes to operate a radio in this mode who might have difficulty using a traditional Morse key and who doesn’t want to retrain their brain to use other available equipment like a puff straw or a foot key. The circuit is remarkably straightforward for what it does, and in the video below it seems [Kevin] is having a blast using it. If you’re still looking to learn to “speak” Morse code, though, take a look at this guide which goes into detail about it.

Thanks to [Dragan] for the tip!

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BBC Micro:bit Reads Morse Code With MakeCode

We always have mixed feelings about the drag-and-drop programming languages. But we were impressed with [SirDan’s] Morse code decoder built with the graphical MakeCode. Granted, it is reading 5 element groups from a button on the BBC micro:bit and not worrying about details such as intercharacter or interelement spacing or word spacing. But it is still a nice demo for MakeCode.

Interestingly, the online editor for MakeCode can apparently simulate well enough to test the program. However, [SirDan] only provides the hex file so we couldn’t try it out. There is a screenshot of the visual code, but you’d have to work out the part that didn’t fit on the screenshot (the data arrays are pretty long).

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This Week In Security: Morse Code Malware, Literal And Figurative Watering Holes, And More

Code obfuscation has been around for a long time. The obfuscated C contest first ran way back in 1984, but there are examples of natural language obfuscation from way earlier in history. Namely Cockney rhyming slang, like saying “Lady from Bristol” instead of “pistol” or “lump of lead” instead of “head”. It’s speculated that Cockney was originally used to allow the criminal class to have conversations without tipping off police.

Code obfuscation in malware serves a similar purpose — hiding from security devices and applications. There are known code snippets and blacklisted IP addresses that anti-malware software scans for. If that known bad code can be successfully obfuscated, it can avoid detection. This is a bit of a constant game of cat-and-mouse, as the deobfuscation code itself eventually makes the blacklist. This leads to new obfuscation techniques, sometimes quite off the wall. Well this week, I found a humdinger of an oddball approach. Morse Code.

Yep, dots and dashes. The whole attack goes like this. You receive an email, claiming to be an invoice. It’s a .xlsx.hTML file. If you don’t notice the odd file extension, and actually let it open, you’re treated to a web page. The source of that page is a very minimal JS script that consists of a morse code decoder, and a payload encoded in Morse. In this case, the payload is simply a pair of external scripts that ask for an Office 365 login. The novel aspect of this is definitely the Morse Code. Yes, our own [Danie] covered this earlier this week, but it was too good not to mention here. Continue reading “This Week In Security: Morse Code Malware, Literal And Figurative Watering Holes, And More”

Phishing With Morse Code

All of us have seen our share of phishing emails, but there are a lot more that get caught by secure email gateways and client filters. Threat actors are constantly coming up with new ways to get past these virtual gatekeepers. [BleepingComputer] investigated a new phishing attack that used some old tricks by hiding the malicious script tags as morse code.

The phishing attack targets Microsoft account login credentials with an HTML page posing as an Excel invoice. When opened, it asks the user to re-enter their credentials before viewing the document. Some external scripts are required to render the fake invoice and login window but would be detected if the links were included normally. Instead, the actor encoded the script links using dots and dashes, for example, “.-” equals “a”. A simple function (creatively named “decodeMorse”) is used to decode and inject the scripts when it runs in the victim’s browser.

Of course, this sort of attack is easy to avoid with the basic precautions we are all familiar with, like not opening suspicious attachments and carefully inspecting URLs. The code used in this attack is simple enough to be used in a tutorial on JavaScript arrays, but it was good enough to slip past a few large company’s filters.

Phishing attacks are probably not going to stop anytime soon, so if you’re bored, you could go phishing for phishers, or write some scripts to flood them with fake information.