Quick And Simple Morse Decoder

[Rostislav Persion] wrote a simple Morse Code decoder to run on his Arduino and display the text on an LCD shield. This is probably the simplest decoder possible, and thus its logic is pretty straightforward to follow. Simplicity comes at a price — changing the speed requires changing constants in the code. We would like to see this hooked up to a proper Morse code key, and see how fast [Rostislav] could drive it before it conks out.

In an earlier era of Morse code decoders, one tough part was dealing with the idiosyncrasies of each sender. Every operator’s style, or “fist”, has subtle variations in the timings of the dots, dashes, and the pauses between these elements, the letters, and the words. In fact, trained operators can recognize each other because of this, much like we can often recognize who is speaking on the phone just by hearing their voice. The other difficulty these decoders faced was detecting the signal in low signal-to-noise ratio environments — pulling the signal out of the noise.

A Morse decoder built today is more likely to be used to decode machine-generated signals, for example, debugging information or telemetry. This would more than likely be sent at fixed, known speeds over directly connected links with very high S/N ratios (a wire, perhaps). In these situations, a simple decoder like [Rostislav]’s is completely sufficient.

We wrote about a couple of Morse code algorithms back in 2014, the MorseDetector and the Magic Morse algorithm. While Morse code operators usually rank their skills by speed — the faster the better — this Morse code project for very low power transmitters turns that notion on its head by using speeds more suitably measured in minutes per word (77 MPW for that project). Have you used Morse code in any of your projects before? Let us know in the comments below.

This Week In Security: Morse Code Malware, Literal And Figurative Watering Holes, And More

Code obfuscation has been around for a long time. The obfuscated C contest first ran way back in 1984, but there are examples of natural language obfuscation from way earlier in history. Namely Cockney rhyming slang, like saying “Lady from Bristol” instead of “pistol” or “lump of lead” instead of “head”. It’s speculated that Cockney was originally used to allow the criminal class to have conversations without tipping off police.

Code obfuscation in malware serves a similar purpose — hiding from security devices and applications. There are known code snippets and blacklisted IP addresses that anti-malware software scans for. If that known bad code can be successfully obfuscated, it can avoid detection. This is a bit of a constant game of cat-and-mouse, as the deobfuscation code itself eventually makes the blacklist. This leads to new obfuscation techniques, sometimes quite off the wall. Well this week, I found a humdinger of an oddball approach. Morse Code.

Yep, dots and dashes. The whole attack goes like this. You receive an email, claiming to be an invoice. It’s a .xlsx.hTML file. If you don’t notice the odd file extension, and actually let it open, you’re treated to a web page. The source of that page is a very minimal JS script that consists of a morse code decoder, and a payload encoded in Morse. In this case, the payload is simply a pair of external scripts that ask for an Office 365 login. The novel aspect of this is definitely the Morse Code. Yes, our own [Danie] covered this earlier this week, but it was too good not to mention here. Continue reading “This Week In Security: Morse Code Malware, Literal And Figurative Watering Holes, And More”

Ethernet Goes To The Ether

Since the ether is an old term for the fictitious space where radio waves propagate, we always thought it was strange that the term ethernet refers to wired communication. Sure, there are wireless devices, but that’s not really ethernet. [Jacek] had the same thought, but decided to do something about it.

What he did is use two different techniques to alter the electromagnetic emission from an ethernet adapter on a Raspberry Pi. The different conditions send Morse code that you can receive at 125 MHz with a suitable receiver.

Practical? Hardly, unless you are looking to exfiltrate data from an air-gapped machine, perhaps. But it does have a certain cool factor. The first method switches the adapter between 10 Mbps and 100 Mbps. The second technique uses a stream of data to accomplish the modulation. The switching method had a range of around 100 meters while the data-based method topped out at about 30 meters. The code is on GitHub if you want to replicate the experiment.

There is plenty of precedent for this sort of thing. In 1976 Dr. Dobb’s Journal published an article about playing music on an Altair 8800 by running code while an AM radio was nearby. We’ve seen VGA adapters forced to transmit data, too.

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Bluepill Copies Code So You Don’t Have To

You really should learn to read Morse code. But if you can’t — or even if you can, and just want a break — you can always get a computer to do it. For example, [jmharvey1] has a decoder that runs on a cheap Bluepill dev board.

The device uses a touchscreen and a few common components. The whole thing cost about $16. You can see it at work along with a description of the project in the video below.

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Speech To Morse Code, Courtesy Of Google

Google has been responsible for unleashing some pretty incredible hardware and software on the world, but they can only take partial credit for the voice to Morse code gadget that [WhiskeyTangoHotel] recently completed.

With the Google AIY Voice Bonnet, [WhiskeyTangoHotel] had everything he needed to pick up on human speech and turn that into text the Raspberry Pi can parse and act on. Usually this would get passed to some kind of virtual assistant software, but in this case, a Python script breaks the speech down into individual characters and looks up their Morse representations. All those “dits” and “dahs” are then sent to one of the Pi’s GPIO pins, to which a relay has been connected.

At this point, you’ve got an interesting little toy that can sit on your desk and turn your speech into audible Morse code as the relay clicks and clacks its way through the message. In fact, if you don’t have a ham radio license, this is probably where you should stop. But if you’ve done the appropriate paperwork to transmit over the air, the relay can be connected to a radio to actually transmit messages.

If you think giving Google access to the content of your Morse code messages is a step too far, you’ll just have to learn it yourself. It might not be necessary to get your amateur license anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth knowing.

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Loading Coils, The Heaviside Condition, And Pupin Coils

When we draw schematics, we have the luxury of pretending that wire is free. There are only a few cases where you have to account for the electrical characteristics of wire: when the wire is very long or the frequency on the wire is relatively high.

This became apparent after the first transatlantic cable went into service for telegraph communications. Even though the wire was linear, there was still distortion on the line so severe that dots and dashes would overlap each other. The temporary solution was to limit speeds so slow that operators had trouble sending and receiving at those speeds. How slow? An average character took two minutes to send! That’s not a typo. Two minutes per character. By custom, Morse code assumes a word is five characters, so you could send a word every 10 minutes.

The first transatlantic cable went into service in 1858 and was virtually the moon landing of its day. Frustrated with how slow the communications were, an electrician by the name of Whitehouse decided to crank up the voltage to over 1,000 volts which caused the cable to fail after only three weeks in service. Whoops. Later analysis showed the cable was probably going to fail quickly anyway, but Whitehouse took the public blame.

The wire back then wasn’t as good as what we have today, which led to some of the problems. The insulation was made from multiple coats of a natural latex, gutta percha, which is what dentists use to fill root canals. The jackets were made from tarred hemp and bound with iron wire. There was no way to build an underwater amplifier in 1858, so the cables were just tremendous wires laying on the ocean floor between Newfoundland and Ireland.

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Clear Some Space And Build A Cosmo Clock

Like many of us, [Artistikk] is inspired by astronauts and space travel in general. To keep the inspiration coming, he made the Cosmo Clock — a sleek little clock that changes color whenever an astronaut is launched into space.

As awesome as space is, we’re inspired by the amount of Earth-saving reuse going on in this project. The actual time-telling is coming from a recycled wristwatch movement. [Artistikk] cut a bigger set of hands for it out of a plastic container, and used the lid from another container for the clock’s body.

The launch inquiries are handled by an ESP8266, which uses a Blynk app and some IFTTT magic to get notified whenever NASA yeets an astronaut into space. Then the ESP generates random RGB values and sends them to a single RGB LED. The clock body is small enough that a single LED is bright enough to light up all the parts that aren’t blacked out with thick paper. In case you’re wondering, the pattern around the edge isn’t random, it’s Morse code for ‘sky’, but you probably already knew that, right? Make a dash past the break to take the tour.

Clocks that wind up in space are much more complicated. Check out this tear-down of the clock from a late-90s Soyuz spacecraft.

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