Planned Obsolescence Isn’t A Thing, But It Is Your Fault

The common belief is that big companies are out to get the little people by making products that break after a short period, or with substantially new features or accessories that make previous models obsolete, requiring the user to purchase a new model. This conspiracy theory isn’t true; there’s a perfectly good explanation for this phenomenon, and it was caused by the consumers, not the manufacturers.

When we buy the hottest, shiniest, smallest, and cheapest new thing we join the wave of consumer demand that is the cause of what often gets labelled as “Planned Obsolescence”. In truth, we’re all to blame for the signals our buying habits send to manufacturers. Dig in and get your flamewar fingers fired up.

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Phone-To-Phone Power Thievery

Once again, [Rulof]’s putting his considerable hacking abilities to good use, his good use that is. By modding a few simple parts he’s put together something that he can carry around on his keychain that’ll allow him to steal power from his friend’s phones to charge his own phone.

He starts by cutting away the motor from an iPhone fan to isolate the Micro USB connector. He then removes the charging circuit board from a cheap Chinese USB power bank, and solders wires from the Micro USB connector to one side of the board. Lastly, he cuts away the Lightning connector from a Lightning-to-USB cable and solders that connector to the other side of the circuit board. For longevity and cosmetics, he puts it all in a small wood block and connects a key ring. The result is a small, neat looking box with a Micro USB connector on one side and a Lightning connector on the other. You can see him make it, and then use it to steal power from his friends in the video after the break.

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Reverse Engineering Apple’s Lightning Connector

Introduced with the iPhone 5 nearly two and a half years ago, Apple’s Lightning connector has stymied the incredible homebrew electronics scene that was previously accustomed to the larger, older, better documented, and more open 30-pin connector. Now, finally, the protocols inside the Apple Lightning connector have been broken. We’re still a ways off from a Lightning breakout board, but this is the first proof that a serial console can be obtained through a Lightning connector. That’s the first step to totally owning an iDevice, and this is how all those exploits will start.

[Ramtin Amin] began the teardown of the Lightning connector began as most reverse engineering tasks should – looking at the patents, finding a source for the connectors, and any other products that use similar hardware. [Ramtin] found a Lightning to Serial converter powered by an STM32 microcontroller. Disassembling the firmware and looking at the output on a logic analyzer, [Ramtin] figured out part of the protocol, most of the wiring, and after some research, schematics for how an until-now unidentified chip in Lightning-enabled iProducts was wired.

The chip in question is colloquially known as the Tristar, and more accurately as a CBTL1608A1. During the teardown craze of the iPhone 5 launch, this chip was frequently identified as a DisplayPort Multiplexer. It is a mux, but not for DisplayPort – it’s only to connect the accessory (Lightning) UART, debug UART, baseband, SoC, and JTAG. This is the key to the castle, and being able to get through this chip means we can now own our iDevices.

The chip is an incredibly small BGA affair that [Ramtin] desoldered, reflowed onto a breakout board, and connected to an STM32 Discovery board. Using the techniques he used with other Lightning-enabled hardware, [Ramtin] was able to connect his iPhone and ever so slightly peek his head into the inner workings of his device.

It’s not complete control of an iDevice yet, but this is how all those future exploits will start. [Ramtin] uploaded a short video as a proof of concept, you can check that out below.

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