Finally We Can Watch The Deere Cracking Def Con Talk

A few weeks ago, some tantalizing social media posts emerged from a Def Con talk, in which [Sick Codes] broke into the screen control unit for a John Deere tractor live on stage, and proceeded to play a special Deere-themed DOOM level upon it. At the time there was nothing more to go on, but we’re pleased to find out that the whole talk has been put online.

The talk starts with an introduction to the topic, to the basics of the control units within the machine and to the various different ages of Deere screen unit. We find that the earlier machines, which are still at work on farms worldwide, rely on outdated Windows CE versions, though the very latest screens run a Linux variant.

It’s one of these last screens to which he turns his attention, and we’re treated to an in-depth look at some of its secrets. After a lot of dead ends and learning exercises the final result is distilled into a pogo pin adapter for the hardware part, and a simple enough cron job to bypass one of Deere’s defenses by keeping the filesystem writable so a file can be updated. There’s a bit more detail about the special DOOM level too, as a special bonus.

You can see our original mention of this talk, or read some of our past Deere coverage.

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Did You See A John Deere Tractor Cracked At DEF CON?

The Internet, or at least our corner of it,  has been abuzz over the last few days with the news of a DEF CON talk by [Sick.Codes] in which he demonstrated the jailbreaking of the console computer from a John Deere tractor. Sadly we are left to wait the lengthy time until the talk is made public, and for now the most substantive information we have comes from a couple of Tweets. The first comes from [Sick.Codes] himself and shows a game of DOOM with a suitably agricultural theme, while the second is by [Kyle Wiens] and reveals the tractor underpinnings relying on outdated and un-patched operating systems.

You might ask why this is important and more than just another “Will it run DOOM” moment. The answer will probably be clear to long-term readers, and is that Deere have become the poster child for improper use of DRM to lock owners into their servicing and deny farmers the right to repair. Thus any breaches in their armor are of great interest, because they have the potential to free farmers world-wide from this unjust situation. As we’ve reported before the efforts to circumvent this have relied on cracked versions of the programming software, so this potential jailbreak of the tractor itself could represent a new avenue.

As far as we’re aware, this has so far taken place on the console modules in the lab and not in the field on a real tractor. So we’re unsure as to whether the door has been opened into the tractor’s brain, or merely into its interface. But the knowledge of which outdated software can be found on the devices will we hope lead further to what known vulnerabilities may be present, and in turn to greater insights into the machinery.

Were you in the audience at DEF CON for this talk? We’d be curious to know more. Meanwhile the Tweet is embedded below the break, for a little bit of agricultural DOOM action.

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For Once, The Long Arm Of John Deere Presses The Right Button

Over many years now we’ve covered right-to-repair stories, and among them has been a constant bête noire. The American farm machinery manufacturer John Deere whose instantly recognisable green and yellow tractors have reliably tilled the soil for over a century, have become the poster child for inappropriate use of DRM. It’s enough to make any farmer see red, but there’s a story from CNN which shows another side to manufacturer control. A Deere dealership in Melitopol, Ukraine, was looted by invading Russian forces, who took away an estimated $5m worth of farm machinery. The perfect crime perhaps, save for the Deere computer system being used to remotely disable them leaving the crooks with combine harvesters they can’t even start.

It makes for a good news story showing the Ukranians getting one over on the looters, and since on-farm thefts are a hot topic anywhere in the world it’s not entirely unexpected that Deere would have incorporated a kill-switch in their products. Recently we covered a look at how the relationship between motor vehicle owner and manufacturer is changing from one of product ownership to software licence, and this is evidently an example of the same thing in the world of machinery. It’s reported that the looters are seeking the help of tractor hackers, which may be unfortunate for them since the world’s go-to source for hacked Deere software is Ukraine. Perhaps they would be better remembering that Russia has legendary tractors of its own.

Thanks [Robert Piston] for the tip.

This John Deere Tractor Doesn’t Need A Driver

While most autonomous vehicles are meant to travel over the highway, John Deere’s new 8R tractor shown at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show will likely only traverse fields and it will do so without a human at the wheel.

The tractor is slated to be available to farmers in late 2022 and has six pairs of stereo cameras to generate a 360 degree view of obstacles. It also uses location technology, including GPS, to ensure it is where it is supposed to be with a claimed accuracy of 1 inch. You can see a video about the beast below.

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Oh Deere, Is That Right To Repair Resolution Troubling You?

Over the years a constant in stories covering the right to repair has come from an unexpected direction, the farming community. Their John Deer tractors, a stalwart of North American agriculture, have become difficult to repair due to their parts using DRM restricting their use to authorised Deere agents. We’ve covered farmers using dubious software tools to do the job themselves, we’ve seen more than one legal challenge, and it’s reported that the price of a used Deere has suffered as farmers abandon their allegiance to newer green and yellow machines. Now comes news of a new front in the battle, as a socially responsible investment company has the tractor giant scrambling to block their shareholder motion on the matter.

Deere have not been slow in their fight-back against the threat of right-to-repair legislation and their becoming its unwilling poster-child, with CTO Jahmy Hindman going on record stating that 98% of repairs to Deere machinery can be done by the farmer themself (PDF, page 5) without need for a Deere agent. The question posed by supporters of the shareholder action is that given the substantial risk to investors of attracting a right-to-repair backlash, why would they run such a risk for the only 2% of repairs that remain? We’d be interested to know how Deere arrived at that figure, because given the relatively trivial nature of some of the examples we’ve seen it sounds far-fetched.

It’s beyond a doubt that Deere makes high-quality agricultural machinery that many farmers, including at least one Hackaday scribe, have used to raise a whole heap of crops. The kind of generational brand loyalty they have among their customers simply can’t be bought by clever marketing, it’s been built up over a century and a half. As spectators to its willful unpicking through this misguided use of their repair operation we hope that something like this shareholder move has the desired effect of bringing it to a close. After all, it won’t simply be of benefit to those who wish to repair their tractor, it might just rescue their now-damaged brand before it’s too late.

Curious about previous coverage on this ongoing story? This article from last year will give context.

Header image: Nheyob / CC BY-SA 4.0

Tractors And The Right To Repair: It’s Going Global

For more than a few years now, we’ve been covering the saga of tractors from the larger manufacturers on which all components are locked down by software to the extent that they can only be replaced by officially sanctioned dealers. We’re thus pleased to see a couple of moments when the story has broken out of the field of a few farmers and right-to-repair geeks and into the mainstream. First up:  a segment on the subject from NPR is worth a listen, as the US public radio station interviews a Montana farmer hit by a $5k fuel sensor on his John Deere as a hook form which to examine the issue. Then there is a blog post from the National Farmers Union, the body representing UK farmers, in which they too lay out the situation and also highlight the data-grabbing aspects of these machines.

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Right To Repair: Tractor Manufacturers Might Have Met Their Match In Australia

The simmering duel between farmers and agricultural machinery manufacturers over access to the software to unlock the DRM which excludes all but the manufacturer’s agents from performing repairs goes on. How this plays out will have implications for the right to repair for everyone on many more devices than simply tractors. Events so far have centred on the American Midwest, but there is an interesting new front opening up in Australia. The Aussie government consumer watchdog, the ACCC, is looking into the matter, and examining whether the tractor manufacturers are in breach of the country’s Competition and Consumer Act. As ABC News reports there is a dual focus, both of the DRM aspect and on the manufacturer’s harvesting and lock-in of customer farm data.

This is an exciting turn of events for anyone with an interest in the right to repair, because it takes the manufacturers out of the comfort zone of their home legal environment into one that may be less accommodating to their needs. If Aussie farmers force them to open up their platforms then it will benefit all of us, but even if it fails, the fact that the issue has received more publicity in a different part of the world can only be a good thing. There are still tractor manufacturers that do not load their machines with DRM, how long will it be we ask before the easy repairability of their products becomes a selling point?

There are many stories relating to this issue on these pages, our most recent followed the skirmishes in Nebraska.

Thanks Stuart Longland for the tip.

Header image, John Deere under Australian skies: Bahnfrend (CC BY-SA 4.0).