ADSL Robustness Verified By Running Over Wet String

A core part of the hacker mentality is the desire to test limits: trying out ideas to see if something interesting, informative, and/or entertaining comes out of it. Some employees of Andrews & Arnold (a UK network provider) applied this mentality towards connecting their ADSL test equipment to some unlikely materials. The verdict of experiment: yes, ADSL works over wet string.

ADSL itself is something of an ingenious hack, carrying data over decades-old telephone wires designed only for voice. ADSL accomplished this in part through robust error correction measures keeping the bytes flowing through lines that were not originally designed for ADSL frequencies. The flow of bytes may slow over bad lines, but they will keep moving.

How bad? In this case, a pair of strings dampened with salty water. But there are limits: the same type of string dampened with just plain water was not enough to carry ADSL.

The pictures of the test setup also spoke volumes. They ran the wet string across a space that looked much like every hacker workspace, salt water dripping on the industrial carpet. Experimenting and learning right where you are, using what you have on hand, are hallmarks of hacker resourcefulness. Fancy laboratory not required.

Thanks to [chris] and [Spencer] for the tips.

Home Server has AMD CPU and IKEA case

Readers who took part in the glory days of custom PC building will no doubt remember the stress of having to pick a case for their carefully-curated build. You may have wanted to lower the total cost a bit by getting a cheap case, but then you’d be stuck looking at some econo-box day in and day out. Plus, how do you post pictures online to boast about your latest build if there are no transparent windows and a lighting kit?

While some may have spent more time choosing their lighted case fans than their optical drive, [Miroslav Prašil] was surely not one of them. When he decided to build a new NAS for his home network, [Miroslav] decided he wanted to put all his money into the device’s internals, and house his build in a wooden storage crate from IKEA. While the low cost was certainly a major factor in the decision, it turns out the crate actually offers a decent amount of room for hardware components. As an added bonus, it doesn’t look completely terrible sitting out in the living room.

In a detailed series of posts on his blog, [Miroslav] walks us through the entire process of building what he has come to call the “NAScrate”. Wanting gigabit Ethernet and a real SATA controller, [Miroslav] went for the ASRock C70M1, a Mini-ITX board with integrated dual-core AMD processor. While not exactly a powerhouse, it will certainly wipe the floor with the fruit-inspired single board computers that so often dominate these types of builds.

To get his clearances worked out, [Miroslav] rendered the entire build in OnShape, which gave him enough confidence in his design to move on to actual construction. The build involves several 3D printed parts, most notably some clever hard drive mounting brackets which allow the drives to be stacked into a space-saving arrangement while still leaving room for airflow between them.

[Miroslav] deftly avoids any religious debates by leaving off his particular choice for software and operating system on his newly constructed NAS, but he does mention that something like FreeNAS would be a logical choice.

While this may be the first wooden one we’ve covered so far, home servers in general are a favorite project for hackers, from budget-friendly scratch builds all the way up to re-purposed enterprise hardware.

Hacker Heroism: Building Your Way Out of AV Hell

Many years ago, in a rainy concrete jungle on the west coast of Australia, I worked for a medium-sized enterprise doing a variety of office-based tasks. Somehow, I found myself caught up in planning a product launch event outside the official remit of my position. We got through it, but not before the audiovisual (AV) setup of the event turned into one giant hack.

The initial planning stages went remarkably smoothly until less than a month out from the big day when three weeks of frantic changes and revisions to the presentation rained down. These were some of the hardest days of my working life to date, as it seemed that we would lock in a new arrangement, only to tear it up days later as some new vital criteria came to light, throwing everything back into disarray.

Things came to a head on the night before the event. Working with two different AV teams we had planned for four projection screens and five flat screen televisions spread throughout the venue and controlled from the central AV desk. But somewhere in all those changes the televisions were set up to all display a still image, or nothing at all. I needed to show different videos on each and have the ability to black them all out.

It was at this point I realized we were screwed. The production team simply didn’t have the hardware to drive another five screens, but they could source it — for the sum of $5000. Management were furious, and were under the impression, like myself that this was what we had asked and paid for already. I was at an impasse, and beginning to wonder if I’d have a job come Monday. I wandered off to a corner to curse, and more importantly, think. After all, I’m a hacker — I can get through this.

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Go Wireless with This DIY Laser Ethernet Link

Most of us have Ethernet in our homes today. The real backbones of the Internet though, use no wires at all. Optical fibers carry pulses of light across the land, under the sea, and if you’re lucky, right to your door. [Sven Brauch] decided to create an optical link. He didn’t have any fiber handy, but air will carry laser pulses over short distances quite nicely. The idea of this project is to directly convert ethernet signals to light pulses. For simplicity’s sake, [Sven] limited the bandwidth to one channel, full-duplex, at 10 Megabits per second (Mbps).

The transmit side of the circuit is rather simple. An op-amp circuit acts as a constant current source, biasing the laser diode. The transmit signal from an Ethernet cable is then added in as modulation. This ensures the laser glows brightly for a 1 bit but never shuts completely off for a 0 bit.

The receive side of the circuit starts with a photodiode. The diode is biased up around 35 V, and a transimpedance amplifier (a current to voltage converter) is used to determine if the diode is seeing a 1 or a 0 from the laser. A bit more signal conditioning ensures the output will be a proper differential Ethernet signal.

[Sven] built two identical boards – each with a transmitter and receiver. He tested the circuit by pointing it at a mirror. His Linux box immediately established a link and was reported that there was a duplicate IP address on the network. This was exactly what [Sven] expected. The computer was confused by its own reflection – but the laser and photodiode circuits were working.

Finally, [Sven] connected his PC and a Raspberry Pi to the two circuits. After carefully aligning the lasers on a wooden board, the two machines established a link. Success! (But be aware that a longer distances, more sophisticated alignment mechanisms may be in order.)

Want to know more about fiber and networking? Check out this article about wiring up an older city. You can also use an optical link to control your CNC.

Networking: Pin the Tail on the Headless Raspberry Pi

Eager to get deeper into robotics after dipping my toe in the water with my BB-8 droid, I purchased a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. The first step was to connect to it. But while it has built-in 802.11n wireless, I at first didn’t have a wireless access point, though I eventually did get one. That meant I went through different ways of finding it and connecting to it with my desktop computer. Surely there are others seeking to do the same so let’s take a look at the secret incantations used to connect a Pi to a computer directly, and indirectly.

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Prisoners Build DIY Computers and Hack Prison Network

The Internet is everywhere. The latest anecdotal evidence of this is a story of prison inmates that build their own computer and connected it to the internet. Back in 2015, prisoners at the Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio built two computers from discarded parts which they transported 1,100 feet through prison grounds (even passing a security checkpoint) before hiding them in the ceiling of a training room. The information has just been made public after the release of the Inspector General’s report (PDF). This report is fascinating and worth your time to read.

This Ethernet router was located in a training room in the prison. Physical access is everything in computer security.

Prisoners managed to access the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections network using login credentials of a retired prison employee who is currently working as a contract employee. The inmates plotted to steal the identity of another inmate and file tax returns under their name. They also gained access to internal records of other prisoners and checked out websites on how to manufacture drugs and DIY weapons, before prison officers were able to find the hidden computers. From the report:

The ODAS OIT analysis also revealed that malicious activity had been occurring within the ODRC inmate network. ODAS OIT reported, “…inmates appeared to have been conducting attacks against the ODRC network using proxy machines that were connected to the inmate and department networks.” Additionally, ODAS OIT reported, “It appears the Departmental Offender Tracking System (DOTS) portal was attacked and inmate passes were created. Findings of bitcoin wallets, stripe accounts, bank accounts, and credit card accounts point toward possible identity fraud, along with other possible cyber-crimes.”

The prisoners involved knew what they were doing. From the interview with the inmate it seems the computers were set up as a remote desktop bridge between internal computers they were allowed to use and the wider internet. They would use a computer on the inmate network and use a remote desktop to access the illicit computers. These were running Kali Linux and there’s a list of “malicious tools” found on the machines. It’s pretty much what you’d expect to find on a Kali install but the most amusing one listed in the report is “Hand-Crafted Software”.

This seems crazy, but prisoners have always been coming up with new ideas to get one over on the guards — like building DIY tattoo guns, When you have a lot of time on your hands and little responsibility, crazy ideas don’t seem so crazy after all.

Apparently Time IS Money

Some people like to tweak cars. Some like to overclock PCs. Then there are the guys like [Jack Zimmermann] who are obsessed with accurate time. He’s working on a project that will deploy NTP (Network Time Protocol) servers in different African countries and needed small, cheap, energy-efficient, and accurate servers. What he wound up with is a very accurate setup for around $200. Along the way, he built some custom hardware, and hacked a computer to sync to the GPS clock reference.

His original attempt was with a Raspberry Pi 3. However, the network adapter isn’t the fastest possible, both because it is 100 MBPS and, primarily, because it is connected via the USB bus. Network latency due to these limitations makes it difficult to serve accurate time.

His solution includes an Odroid C2. For $50 it is a very capable computer with four cores, gigabit Ethernet, and can even use eMMC storage which is faster than the usual SD card. You can still use a conventional SD card, though, if you prefer.

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