ESP8266 Broadcasts Memorial WiFi Spam

John Perry Barlow, founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation, died on February 7th, 2018. To say that he left his mark on the Internet, and by extension modern culture, is something of an understatement. He may not be a household name, but between this activism (online and off), lectures, written work, and various entrepreneurial projects, his 70 years of life were surely not wasted. Barlow was once quoted as saying “I want to be a good ancestor”, and by pretty much any metric it would seem he made good on that goal.

To mark his passing, [Moritz Metz] came up with a rather unusual memorial. Using a bit of code on an ESP8266 board, he created a device that would broadcast out Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspaceline-by-line in the form of 228 WiFi SSIDs. Perhaps not the most effective way to get Barlow’s words out to the people, but we’ll give him extra points for style.

The code itself is based on FakeBeaconESP8266, which as the name implies, allows the user to create fake WiFi networks. to broadcast the manifesto of your choosing, you need only add in the appropriate sendBeacon() lines at the bottom of the code. It would appear that prefixing each line with a number is required to make devices scanning for networks show the lines of text in proper sequence. At least on the devices demoed, anyway.

Just to be clear: you should definitely not do this. Jamming up the local environment with a bunch of fake networks is a pretty terrible idea. But as a memorial for a man who occasionally claimed to be an anarchist, you could do worse. Plus we have to admit “Giants of Flesh and Steel” is an awesome name for a network.

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How Low Can an ESP8266 Go?

We’ve been tuned into coin cell designs lately given the coin cell challenge, so we were interested in [CNLohr]’s latest video about pushing the ESP8266 into the lowest-possible battery drain with coin cells. The result is a series of hacks, based on a reverse-engineered library and depends on a modified router, but that gets the power consumption down by more than a factor of ten!

Although the ESP8266 has a deep sleep mode that draws only 20 microamps or so, that isn’t as rosy as it seems. If you could go to sleep for a while, wake up for just a moment, send your data, and then go back to sleep, that might be one thing. But when you use conventional techniques, the device wakes up and has to do about ten seconds of work (at high power) to connect to a nearby access point. Then it can do what you want and go back to sleep. That ten-second hit is a killer on small batteries.

Since that’s all you can do with the standard libraries, the next step was to find [pvvx] who has reverse engineered a great deal of the libraries and provides a library with no WiFi capability. That’s a two-edged sword. The pro is you get a 30 ms startup from a deep sleep. The downside is — well — you don’t have WiFi.

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Long-Range RFID Leaflets

Pick a card, any card. [Andrew Quitmeyer] and [Madeline Schwartzman] make sure that any card you pick will match their NYC art installation. “Replantment” is an interactive art installation which invites guests to view full-size leaf molds casts from around the world.

A receipt file with leaf images is kept out of range in this art installation. When a viewer selects one, and carries it to the viewing area, an RFID reader tells an Arduino which tag has been detected. Solid-state relays control two recycled clothing conveyors draped with clear curtains. The simple units used to be back-and-forth control but through dead-reckoning, they can present any leaf mold cast front-and-center.

Clothing conveyors from the last century weren’t this smart before, and it begs the question about inventory automation in small businesses or businesses with limited space.

We haven’t seen much long-range RFID, probably because of cost. Ordinary tags have been read at a distance with this portable reader though, and NFC has been transmitted across a room, sort of.

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ESP32 Makes Not-So-Smart Lights Smart

Long taken for granted – lights are a basic necessity of modern life. From the time of the first light bulb, we’ve been able to navigate the dark without the use of fire. With the advent of the Internet of Things, it has become somewhat of a requirement to bring a little intelligence to lights before labeling yourself as a hardware hacker. There are many ways to do this; one of the most common being making use of an ESP32. [Luca Dentella] is somewhat of an ESP32 expert, and has written a fantastic tutorial on how to use the chip. The tutorial builds up to making a set of lights controllable from a smartphone web browser as well a light intensity sensor.

Now before you brush this off as simple n0Ob stuff – consider the following. He’s using a Lolin32 lite dev board, a BH1750 light intensity sensor and a relay to interface with mains for the lights. He wrote his own firmware and gets into the gritty details of developing the HTTP interface and flashing code to the correct memory.

We’ve seen a lot of ESP32 projects here at Hackaday, including this most interesting clock. Be sure to check out the video below to see the smart lights in action.

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Behind the Scenes at a Pair of Cell Sites

Those who fancy themselves as infrastructure nerds find cell sites fascinating. They’re outposts of infrastructure wedged into almost any place that can provide enough elevation to cover whatever gap might exist in a carrier’s coverage map. But they’re usually locked behind imposing doors and fences with signs warning of serious penalty for unauthorized access, and so we usually have to settle for admiring them from afar.

Some folks, like [Mike Fisher] aka [MrMobile], have connections, though, and get to take an up close and personal tour of a couple of cell sites. And while the video below is far from detailed enough to truly satisfy most of the Hackaday crowd, it’s enough to whet the appetite and show off a little of what goes into building out a modern cell site. [Mike] somehow got AT&T to take him up to a cell site mounted in the belfry and steeple of the 178-year old Unitarian Church in Duxbury, Massachusetts. He got to poke around everything from the equipment shack with its fiber backhaul gear and backup power supplies to the fiberglass radome shaped to look like the original steeple that now houses the antennas.

Next he drove up to Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the highest point in the northeast US and home to a lot of wireless infrastructure. Known for having some of the worst weather in the world and with a recent low of -36°F (-38°C) to prove it, Mount Washington is brutal on infrastructure, to which the tattered condition of the microwave backhaul radomes attests.

We appreciate the effort that went into this video, but again, [Mike] leaves us wanting more details. Luckily, we’ve got an article that does just that.

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Finding Your Motorbike Using Wi-Fi

An urban planner once told me that every car requires at least four times as much space as they actually occupy. Each needs a spot on the roads, and three available parking spaces: one at home, one at work, and one to shop. Motorcycles are much smaller, but they still spend most of their time parked.

Motorcycles are the primary means of transport in Southeast Asia, and learning to safely drive one is an essential part of adapting to life here. Assuming it’s not pouring rain and you’re not flooded past your ankles, it’s actually quite a pleasant experience… until you have to park.

Unlike the parking lots you may be familiar with, there’s no expectation that your bike won’t be moved. In fact, it might very well end up on another floor, in another parking lot, or behind hundreds of impassable parked bikes on the roof. In the latter case, the attendant will shrug and suggest you come back in a few hours. Eventually, this won’t even register as a frustration – you will simply reason that there are plenty of other things that are more convenient here, like the weather (recent typhoon aside) or unlimited symmetrical fiber to the home for USD 5 a month.

That being said, with a little technology the problem could be lessened a bit while waiting for automated parking lots to become commonplace. On rare occasions I see people with little radio emitters that make their headlights flash, but they’re not terribly common here and require carrying yet another thing on my already full key chain (homes here typically use several different locks). It seemed pretty easy to pull off something similar using my smart phone with an ESP8266 running NodeMCU. I had been meaning to try out the sleep modes to save battery power anyway, so off I went.

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Samy Kamkar: Reverse Engineering for a Secure Future

Show of hands: how many of you have parked your car in the driveway, walked up to your house, and pressed your car’s key fob button thinking it would open the front door? We’ve probably all done it and felt a little dopey as a result, but when you think about it, it would be tremendously convenient, especially with grocery bags dangling off each arm and the mail clenched between your teeth. After all, we’re living in the future —  shouldn’t your house be smart enough to know when you’re home?

Reverse engineer par excellence Samy Kamkar might think so, but given his recent experiences with cars smart enough to know when you’re standing outside them, he’d probably have some reservations. Samy dropped by the 2017 Hackaday Superconference in November to discuss the finer points of exploiting security flaws in passive car entry systems, and also sat down with our own Elliot Williams after his talk for a one-on-one interview. Samy has some interesting insights on vehicle cybersecurity, but the practical knowledge he’s gained while exploring the limits of these systems teach some powerful lessons about being a real-world reverse engineer.

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