36C3: Open Source Is Insufficient To Solve Trust Problems In Hardware

With open source software, we’ve grown accustomed to a certain level of trust that whatever we are running on our computers is what we expect it to actually be. Thanks to hashing and public key signatures in various parts in the development and deployment cycle, it’s hard for a third party to modify source code or executables without us being easily able to spot it, even if it travels through untrustworthy channels.

Unfortunately, when it comes to open source hardware, the number of steps and parties involved that are out of our control until we have a final product — production, logistics, distribution, even the customer — makes it substantially more difficult to achieve the same peace of mind. To make things worse, to actually validate the hardware on chip level, you’d ultimately have to destroy it.

On his talk this year at the 36C3, [bunnie] showed a detailed insight of several attack vectors we could face during manufacturing. Skipping the obvious ones like adding or substituting components, he’s focusing on highly ambitious and hard to detect modifications inside an IC’s package with wirebonded or through-silicon via (TSV) implants, down to modifying the netlist or mask of the integrated circuit itself. And these aren’t any theoretical or “what if” scenarios, but actual possible options — of course, some of them come with a certain price tag, but in the end, with the right motivation, money is only a detail.

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How The Sony PlayStation Was Hacked

Playgrounds were the comment sections of their day. Every weekday from exactly 1:17 PM until 1:43 PM there were swings to be swung, rumors to be spread, and debates to be settled by whomever was the loudest (some things never change). Allegiances were formed and battle lines were drawn based solely on what video game console you supported. It was this playground system that perpetuated the urban myths of the time.

For PlayStation fans there was the myth that you could save Aerith from her fate in Final Fantasy VII if you just cast the right spell, or the secret code in Tomb Raider that would let you see all of Lara Croft. There was the myth that no one could possibly copy a PlayStation game because all the bottoms of the discs were black. Even the very existence of the first PlayStation, the Super Nintendo PlayStation prototype, was an urban legend. The difference was that last one turned out to be true.

Let’s jump in and take a look at the cat and mouse game between modchip makers looking to defeat the original PlayStation’s copy protection, and Sony’s efforts to protect their castle.
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CO2 Laser Decapping To Fix Soldering Mistake

[Carsten] messed up. He was soldering an ARM CPU onto a quadcopter board in haste, failed to notice that the soldering iron was turned up to eleven, and pulled some of the traces up off the PCB. In the process of trying to fix that, he broke three pins off of the 100-pin CPU. The situation was going from bad to worse.

Instead of admitting defeat, or maybe reflowing the CPU off of the board, [Carsten] lasered the epoxy case off of the chip down to the lead frame and worked a little magic with some magnet wire. A sweet piece of work, to be sure!

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