Hackaday Links: April 29, 2018

Amazon has released the Echo Dot Kids Edition, an always-on, Internet-connected microphone. According to Amazon’s Children’s Privacy Disclosure, the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition collects data such as, ‘name, birthdate, contact information (including phone numbers and email addresses), voice, photos, videos, location, and certain activity and device information. The Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition is able to read audiobooks for bedtime reading and teaches your children to live in a dystopian panopticon of Orwellian proportions. It comes in green, red, and blue.

Kim Possible! The biggest news headline this week is the coming end of the Korean War. The peninsula has been in a state of war since 1950, but leaders from both countries have agreed to negotiate a treaty to replace the 60-year-old truce. There is also an agreement between the two countries for complete denuclearization. This is great news for Hackaday. Every day, we’re eyeing our North Korean readership. Some days we get a view, some days we don’t, but year over year we’re always getting more views. Will this treaty result in even more Hackaday readers in North Korea? Only time will tell. Here’s some music. It wasn’t a chicken.

The East Coast RepRap Festival is on. Inspired by the Midwest RepRap Festival, the ERRF is happening north of Baltimore on June 23rd and 24th. What’s it going to be like? Nobody knows! This is the first time ERRF is happening, but judging by MRRF standards, it should be awesome. Also, crab season.

One of the most interesting hacks of this year is [Steve Markgraf]’s tool to allow transmit-only SDR through cheap USB 3.0 to VGA adapters. The hack relies on the Fresco Logic FL2000 chip and gives you the ability to transmit FM, TVB-T, and create your own GSM cell site. You can also spoof GPS to get something besides a rattata in Pokemon Go or hack your ankle bracelet to keep your parole officer off your back. The open question, though, is which USB to VGA adapter has the FL2000 chipset. I can confirm this one on Amazon has the relevant chipset. It’s a bit expensive at $15 (the same chipset is available from the usual eBay and AliExpress suppliers for $6), but if you’re looking for something that is available with Prime, there you go. Now we’re looking for shared OSH Park projects with a VGA input on one end and some antennas on the other. Make it happen, people.

Supercapacitors are awesome, but is it possible to fly a drone with a bank of them? Sure, for about 10 seconds. [dronelab] built a 7-cell, 200F supercap and managed to fly a little racing quad for about ten seconds. Not terribly great, but this is going to be awesome when we get multi-thousand Farad superultramegacaps.

Like Open Hardware? The Open Source Hardware Association is opening up the Ada Lovelace Fellowship for women, LGTBA+ and other minorities to attend the Open Hardware Summit. The deadline is tomorrow, so do it soon.

M3D has announced a new 3D printer that can print with four filaments. The Crane Quad is your basic i3 ripoff with an interesting extruder. It looks like it uses four tiny motors to feed filament into the main extruder motor. This isn’t really anything new; the Prusa i3 multimaterial upgrade does the same thing. However, M3D claims they have mastered color mixing. The Prusa upgrade doesn’t do mixing, and this is most likely the reason it works so well. Can M3D pull it off? This is a very, very, very hard problem.

34C3: North Korea’s Consumer Technology

[Will Scott] and [Gabe Edwards] shed some light on the current state of consumer computing technology at 34C3 in their talk DPRK Consumer Technology. The pair has also created a website to act as a clearinghouse for this information — including smartphone OS images up at koreaComputerCenter.org.

Not a whole lot is known about what technology North Korean citizens have available to them. We have seen Red Star OS, the Mac-like Linux based operating system used on PC based desktops. But what about other systems like smartphones?

[Will] and [Gabe] found that cell phones in North Korea are typically manufactured by Chinese companies, running a custom version of the Android Operating system. The phone hardware is common — the phone sold as the Pyongyang 2407 in North Korea is also sold in India as the Genie v5. If you can get your hands on the Genie, you can run the Korean version of the Android OS on that hardware.

Continue reading “34C3: North Korea’s Consumer Technology”

Hackaday Links: December 25th, 2016

You should be watching the Doctor Who Christmas special right now. Does anyone know when the Resturant at the End of the Universe spinoff is airing?

We have a contest going on right now. It’s the 1 kB Challenge, a contest that challenges you to do the most with a kilobyte of machine code. The deadline is January 5th, so get cracking.

A few years ago, [Kwabena] created the OpenMV, a Python-powered machine vision module that doesn’t require a separate computer. It’s awesome, and we’re going to have his talk from the Hackaday SuperConference up shortly. Now the OpenMV is getting an upgrade. The upgrades include an ARM Cortex M7, more RAM, more heap for less money. Here’s a link to preorder.

There ain’t no demoscene party like an Amtrak demoscene party because an Amtrak demoscene party lasts ten hours.

E-paper displays are fancy, cool, and low-power. Putting them in a project, however, is difficult. You need to acquire these display modules, and this has usually been a pain. Now Eink has a web shop where you can peruse and purchase epaper display modules and drivers.

[Kris] built a pair of STM32L4 dev boards that are easily programmed in the Arduino IDE. Now he’s putting these boards up on Kickstarter. The prices are reasonable – $15 for the smaller of the pair, and $25 for the bigger one. Remember, kids: ARM is the future, at least until RISC-V takes over.

This is how you do holiday greeting cards.

Didn’t get what you want for Christmas?  Don’t worry, Amazon still has A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates in stock. It’s also available on audible dot com. Sometimes we don’t have time to sit down and read a million random digits but with audible dot com, you can listen to a million random digits in audio book format. That’s audible dot com please give us money.

northkoreaThis is the last Hackaday Links post of the year, which means it’s time for one of our most cherished traditions: reviewing our readership in North Korea.

It’s been a banner year for Hackaday in the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. The readership has exploded in 2016, with a gain of nearly 300%. To put that in perspective, in 2015 we had thirty-six views from North Korea across every page on Hackaday. In 2016, that number increased to one hundred and forty.

That’s a phenomenal increase and a yearly growth that is unheard of in the publishing industry. We’d like to tip our hat to all our North Korean reader, and we’re looking forward to serving you in 2017.

32C3: Inside Glorious Leader’s Operating System

North Korea is a surveillance state propped up by a totalitarian government infamous for human rights abuses and a huge military that serves the elite while the poor are left to fight over scraps. Coincidently, that’s exactly what North Korea says about the United States.

There is one significant difference between the two countries: North Korea has developed its own operating system for its citizens, called Red Star OS. It’s an operating system based on Linux, but that has a few interesting features that allow Glorious Leader to take care of his citizens. A deep teardown of what has gone into the development of Red Star OS hasn’t been available until now, with [Florian Grunow] and [Niklaus Schiess]’s talk at the Chaos Communication Congress this week.

Kim Jong-Un with an iMac
Kim Jong-Un with an iMac

The first question anyone must ask when confronted with an operating system built by a country that doesn’t have much electricity is, “why?” This question can only be answered philosophically; the late Kim Jong-Il stressed the importance of North Korea developing “their own style” of programming, and not relying on western operating systems. Nearly everything in Red Star has been modified, with a custom browser called Naenara, a crypto tool, a clone of Open Office, a software manager, and a custom music composition tool. Red Star also had to have the look and feel of OS X; that is, after all, what Glorious Leader uses.

Red Star goes much deeper than custom browsers and a desktop theme. There are other, subtler components inside the OS. There is a program that verifies the integrity of the system by checking signatures of the custom files against a database. If a file has been tampered with, the system reboots. Since this tamper check runs on bootup, Red Star makes it nearly impossible to modify files for study. This is one of the big features designed into Red Star – system integrity is paramount.

There are other custom bits of software that hide files from the user even if they have root, and a ‘virus scanner’ that is anything but. This virus scanner checks documents for patterns that, when put through Google Translate, are strange, weird, and somewhat understandable. Phrases like, “punishment”, “hungry”, and “strike with fists” are detected in all documents, and depending on what the developers decide, these documents can be deleted on a whim.

While scanning a system for documents that contain non-approved speech is abhorrent enough, there’s another feature that would make any privacy advocate weep. Media files including DOCX, JPG, PNG, and AVI files are watermarked by every computer that opened the files. This allows anyone to track the origin of a file, with the obvious consequences to free speech that entails.

While most people in the US consider North Korea to be a technological backwater and oppressive regime, the features that make Red Star OS useful to the DPRK are impressive. The developers touched nearly everything in Red Star, and the features inside it are rather clever and make their style of surveillance very useful. They’re also doing this without any apparent backdoors or other spycraft; they’re putting all their surveillance out in the open for all to see, which is, perhaps, the best way to go about it.

Messing Around With Naenara, North Korea’s Web Browser

[Robert] has been snooping around Naenara in order to learn more about how North Korea’s intranet might work. Naenara is the web browser that comes bundled with North Korea’s official Linux-based operating system known as Red Star OS. [Robert] once saw a screenshot of the browser and found it interesting that the browser seemed to automatically load a non-routable IP address immediately upon start-up. This made him curious about what other oddities one might uncover from the software.

Upon start-up, the browser tries to load a page located at IP address 10.76.1.11, which is a reserved IP address for private use. This indicated that North Korea’s “Internet” is actually more of in intranet. [Robert] suspects that the entire country may be running in private address space, similar to how your home or business likely runs.

[Robert’s] next thoughts were that the browser looks like a very old version of Mozilla Firefox, but with some default configuration changes. For one, all crashes are automatically transmitted to “the mothership”, as [Robert] calls it. He suspects this is to fix not only bugs, but also to find and repair any security vulnerabilities that may allow users more control.

There are some other interesting changes as well, such as the supported security certificates. The Naenara browser only accepts certificates issued by the DPRK, which would make it very easy for them to snoop on encrypted HTTPS traffic. there is also evidence suggesting that all traffic for the entire country is routed through a single government controlled proxy server.

None of these findings are all that surprising, but it’s still interesting to see what kind of information can be gleamed from poking around the browser and operating system. [Robert] has found more than just these few findings. You can check out the rest of his findings on his blog.

[via Reddit]