One effect of the global pandemic was that there were relatively few events in our sphere for a couple of years. This and that other by-product of COVID-19, the chip shortage, meant that over the past year we’ve been treated to several event badges that should have appeared in 2020 or 2021, but didn’t due to those cancelled events. We were lucky enough to receive probably the last of these delayed badges in mid February, as we made the journey to the central part of the Netherlands to Hacker Hotel 2023.
A Puzzle, A 4-Bit Computer, And An Artwork
The badge takes the form of a rectangular PCB with all parts on the top side. The brains of the operation is an RP2040, and it’s powered by a CR2032 coin cell in a holder. It’s divided into two parts, the top third which carries the circuitry and the lower two thirds of which as a row of buttons and LEDs. It’s pretty obvious from the start that it has data and address lines of a 4-bit computer, and as well as these there is an evident serial port and a USB socket. The artwork comes form the same artist whose work graced both the previous Hacker Hotel badge and the MCH2022 badge, and the rear of the PCB makes full use of all layers to create a mystical puzzle. The sum is to create a puzzle game intended to entertain the visitor, take them round the venue, and find clues to an eventual solution. I love the design both from an artistic and technical viewpoint, but have to admit that the puzzle aspect isn’t really my thing. Thus here we’ll concentrate on the badge hardware and production, and mention the puzzles only in passing. Continue reading “Hacker Hotel 2023 Had A Very Cool Badge”
Michael Whiteley (aka [compukidmike]) is a badgelife celebrity. Together, he and his wife Katie make up MK Factor. They have created some of the most popular electronic conference badges. Of course, even experts make mistakes and run into challenges when they dare to push the envelope of technology and delivery schedules. In his Supercon 2022 talk, There’s No Rev 2: When Badgelife Goes Wrong, Mike shares details from some of his worst badge snafus and also how he managed to gracefully pull them back from the edge of disaster.
Living the Badgelife
Attendees at the world’s largest hacker convention, DEF CON in Las Vegas, had already become accustomed to receiving and wearing very cool and novel admission tokens, more properly known as badges. Then in 2006, at DEF CON 14, everything changed. Designed by Joe Grand, the first electronic DEF CON badge was a circuit board featuring a tiny PIC microcontroller, two LEDs, and a single pushbutton. Badgelife was born.
DEF CON 30 Humans Sampling Board
Mike begins his war stories with one about the DEF CON 30 badge. This was a herculean project with 25,000 badges being produced on a short timeline in the ever-changing chaos of a semiconductor supply-chain meltdown. Even though many regard it as one of the best DEF CON badges ever made, the DC30 badge posed a number of challenges to its creators. Microcontrollers were in short supply during 2021 and 2022 forcing the badge team to keep an eye on component vendor supplies in order to snipe chips as soon as they appeared in stock. The DC30 badge was actually redesigned repeatedly as different microcontrollers fluctuated in and out of supply. Continue reading “Supercon 2022: Michael Whiteley Saves The Badge”
[hamster] and the DC Zia crew offered up a throwback 30-in-ONE Learn Electronics indie badge for DEF CON 30. The badge is inspired by the Radio Shack “100-in-1” style project kits that so many of us cut our teeth on back in the 70s and 80s.
DC Zia is a hacker group loosely associated with New Mexico who have been working together to make an indie badge for DEF CON each year. If you aren’t familiar with the badgelife community of hardware hackers and programmers who make electronic indie conference badges, check out our BadgeLife Documentary.
The 30-in-ONE badge is provided in the form of a kit, so the learning and fun begins with assembling the badge. From there, an included booklet guides the badge holder through building and experimenting with 30 different circuits.
The included components include resistors, capacitors, LEDs, transistors, switches, transformer, speaker, OLED display, battery box, and a bundle of jumper wires for making any desired circuit connections. The documented circuits have compelling titles such as the Electric Cat, Light Theremin, Grandfather Clock, and Frequency Counter.
Flashback to what DC Zia, and other groups, were up to five years prior in our expose on The Hardware Badges of DEF CON 25.
Continue reading “Nostalgic 30-in-ONE Electronics Badge For DEF CON 30”
Over the last several years, there’s been a trend towards designing ever more complex and powerful electronic event badges. Color displays, sensors, WiFi, USB, Bluetooth — you name it, and there’s probably a con badge out there that has packed it in. Even our own 2019 Supercon broke new ground with the inclusion of a Lattice LFE5U-45F FPGA running a RISC-V core. Admittedly, observing this unofficial arms race has been fascinating. But as we all know, a hacker isn’t defined by the tools at their disposal, but rather the skill and imagination with which they wield them.
So this year, we’ve taken a slightly different approach. Rather than try and cram the badge with even more state of the art hardware than we did in 2019, we’ve decided to go back to the well. The 2022 Supercon badge is a lesson in what it means to truly control a piece of hardware, to know what each bit of memory is doing, and why. Make no mistake, it’s going to be a challenge. In fact, we’d wager most of the people who get their hands on the badge come November 4th will have never worked on anything quite like it before. Folks are going to get pulled out of their comfort zones, but of course, that’s the whole idea.
Continue reading “The 2022 Supercon Badge Is A Handheld Trip Through Computing History”
Among all the things you could find at MCH2022, there were a few CTFs (Capture The Flag exercises) – in particular, every badge contained an application that you could try and break into – only two teams have cracked this one! [dojoe] was part of one of them, and he has composed an extensive reverse-engineering story for us – complete with Ghidra disassembly of Xtensa code, remote code execution attempts, ROP gadget creation, and no detail left aside.
There was a catch: badges handed out to the participants didn’t contain the actual flag. You had to develop an exploit using your personal badge that only contained a placeholder flag, then go to the badge tent and apply your exploit over the network to one of the few badges with the real flag on them. The app in question turned out to be an echo server – sending back everything it received; notably, certain messages made it crash. One man’s crashes are another man’s exploit possibilities, and after a few hacking sessions, [dojoe]’s team got their well-deserved place on the scoreboard.
If you always thought that firmware reverse-engineering sounds cool, and you also happen to own a MCH2022 badge, you should try and follow the intricately documented steps of [dojoe]’s writeup. Even for people with little low-level programming experience, repeating this hack is realistic thanks to his extensive explanations, and you will leave with way more reverse-engineering experience than you had before.
The MCH2022 badge is a featureful creation of intricate engineering, with the ESP32 portion only being part of the badge – we’re eager to hear about what you’ve accomplished or are about to accomplish given everything it has to offer!
If it’s got a chip and a screen, someone’s trying to run DOOM on it. The latest entry in this fad is from [Phil Ashby], who figured out how to get the game running on the EMFCamp Tidal Badge as seamlessly as possible.
The badge is based on the ESP32-S3. It’s the latest version of the ESP32, which can run the iconic shooter pretty easily. However, [Phil] set himself a trickier challenge. He wanted to port DOOM to the badge while having it remain compatible with the MicroPython platform already on it. Plus, he wanted to be able to distribute it easily with the TiDAL Hatchery, a platform for sharing apps for the badge.
In the end, it took some deft hacking to make the game run on a microcontroller platform that isn’t really set up for running “applications.” It took some tricks to scale the video output and get the colors right, of course, but it’s there and working.
The state of the art is now so advanced that they managed to port DOOM into DOOM so you can DOOM while you DOOM. Video after the break.
Continue reading “DOOM Runs On The EMFCamp Tidal Badge”
As we slowly return to a summer of getting together in fields for our festivals of hackery, it’s time to look at another of this year’s crop of badges. The UK’s Electromagnetic Field, or EMF, is normally a two-yearly event, but its return this year comes after a four year absence due to the pandemic. The EMF 2022 badge is a departure from previous outings, gone is the handheld game console form factor and in its place is a svelte USB-C stick with a nod to the first generation of EMF badges in its wave shape.
The text is a little small on the tiny screen.
On the rear is this pattern.
Physically the badge is formed of two PCBs that plug together with the LiPo battery sandwiched between them, the upper one carrying the display and battery while the lower holds the ESP32-S3 MCU and the various peripherals. These include a QMA7981 accelerometer, a QMC7983 magnetometer, and perhaps most intriguingly, an ATECC108A cryptographic accelerator. This last component gives it the potential to be a 2-factor authentication key, which we think is probably a first for a badge.
In use, the TFT display and joystick interface is usable, but hard to read for a Hackaday scribe whose eyes maybe aren’t as sharp as they used to be. Programming is via MicroPython, using an app format through the same online hatchery system that will be familiar to owners of other European badges. There are already quite a few apps, which we hope will help this badge have some longevity.
This is just the latest of a long line of EMF badges, of which the 2016 version is probably our favourite.