Screenshot of eBay listings with Gigaset IoT devices being sold, now basically useless

A Giga-Sunset For Gigaset IoT Devices

In today’s “predictable things that happened before and definitely will happen again”, we have another company in the “smart device” business that has just shuttered their servers, leaving devices completely inert. This time, it’s Gigaset. The servers were shuttered on the 29th of March, and the official announcement (German, Google Translate) states that there’s no easy way out.

It appears that the devices were locked into Gigaset Cloud to perform their function, with no local-only option. This leaves all open source integrations in the dust, whatever documentation there was, is now taken down. As the announcement states, Gigaset Communications Gmbh has gotten acquired due to insolvency, and the buyer was not remotely interested in the Smart Home portion of the business. As the corporate traditions follow, we can’t expect open sourcing of the code or protocol specification or anything of the sort — the devices are bricks until someone takes care of them.

If you’re looking for smart devices on the cheap, you might want to add “Gigaset” to your monitored search term list — we’ll be waiting for your hack submissions as usual. After all, we’ve seen some success stories when it comes to abandoned smart home devices – like the recent Insteon story, where a group of device owners bought out and restarted the service after the company got abruptly shut down.

We thank [Louis] for sharing this with us!

One Less Binary Blob

Open-source software has gone a long way into making modern technology the way it is today. The Linux kernel alone is almost single-handedly holding up the entire Internet, and various other open-source projects allow for more access to computing resources not just because the software is often free, but because it’s possible to look under the hood and modify it for specific needs. Without open-source software available we often run into problems both expected, such as software licensing costs, and unexpected, which often come up because a developer can’t or won’t fix issues or add features. To that end, a group at Ghent University in Belgium are attempting to rectify a problem with the ESP32 by eliminating one of its binary blobs and replacing it with an open source driver.

The ESP32 is famously a low-cost microcontroller with on-board wireless capabilities, but its Wi-Fi functionality currently relies on closed-source software from Espressif. The team is currently working on building a fully working open-source networking stack with the hopes of enabling greater flexibility of these devices but also making things like security auditing possible. The other major goal is to improve low-cost mesh networking which is currently not available with the proprietary driver. Reverse engineering is the name of the game here, both from a hardware and a software level, but current versions of the software already able to send and receive packets.

The source code for the project is available on the team’s GitHub page for any open-source aficionados to take a look at. We certainly hope the project gains some steam, as any new open source project helps all of us using the platform. Open source projects frequently get stymied by a single or small handful of binary blobs too, often with little hope for recourse. Examples include Android being an open-source operating system but generally using the closed-source Google Play suite in practice, or Firefox including support for Adobe Flash. Another great example is that even computers running 100% open-source code once they boot their operating systems, there’s still some black boxes running in the background few of us think about.

Thanks to [Crote] for the tip!

A scan (x-ray?) of a human skull. Electrodes trace around the skull and are attached to the brain. These implants are for reducing Parkinson's tremors.

What Happens When Implants Become Abandonware?

You’ve probably had a company not support one of your devices as long as you’d like, whether it was a smart speaker or a phone, but what happens if you have a medical implant that is no longer supported? [Liam Drew] did a deep dive on what the failure of several neurotechnology startups means for the patients using their devices.

Recent advances in electronics and neurology have led to new treatments for neurological problems with implantable devices like the Autonomic Technologies (ATI) implant for managing cluster headaches. Now that the company has gone out of business, users are left on their own trying to hack the device to increase its lifespan or turning back to pharmaceuticals that don’t do the job as well as tapping directly into the nervous system. Since removing defunct implants is expensive (up to $40k!) and includes the usual list of risks for surgery, many patients have opted to keep their nonfunctional implants. Continue reading “What Happens When Implants Become Abandonware?”

Mis-captured signal transitions shown on the screen of the LA104, with problematic parts circled in red.

When Your Logic Analyzer Can’t Tell Good And Bad Signals Apart

[Avian] has picked up a Miniware LA104 – a small battery-powered logic analyzer with builtin protocol decoders. Such analyzers are handy tools for when you quickly need to see what really is happening with a certain signal, and they’re cheap enough to be sacrificial when it comes to risky repairs. Sadly, he stumbled upon a peculiar problem – the analyzer would show the signal glitching every now and then, even at very low bitrates. Even more surprisingly, the glitches didn’t occur in the signal traces when exported and viewed on a laptop.

A Pulseview window showing that the problem is not present in the exported capturesHe dug into the problem, as [Avian] does. Going through the problem-ridden capture files helped him realize that the glitch would always happen when one of the signal edges would be delayed by a few microseconds relative to other signal edges — a regular occurrence when it comes to digital logic. This seems to stem from compression being used by the FPGA-powered “capture samples and send them” part of the analyzer. This bug only relates to the signal as it’s being displayed on the analyzer’s screen, and turned out that while most of this analyzer’s interface is drawn by the STM32 CPU, the trace drawing part specifically was done by the FPGA using a separate LCD interface.

It would appear Miniware didn’t do enough testing, and it’s impossible to distinguish a good signal from a faulty one when using a LA104 – arguably, the primary function of a logic analyzer. In the best of Miniware traditions, going as far as being hostile to open-source firmware at times, the FPGA bistream source code is proprietary. Thus, this bug is not something we can easily fix ourselves, unless Miniware steps up and releases a gateware update. Until then, if you bought a LA104, you can’t rely on the signal it shows on the screen.

When it comes to Miniware problems, we’ve recently covered a Miniware tweezer repair, requiring a redesign of the shell originally held together with copious amount of glue. At times, it feels like there’s something in common between glue-filled unrepairable gadgets and faulty proprietary firmware. If this bug ruins the LA104 for you, hey, at least you can reflash it to work as an electronics interfacing multitool.

Screenshot of the Insteon's new blog post, showing the Insteon logo in the header, the "A New Day for Insteon!" title, and some of the intro paragraph of the blog post

Insteon Gets Another Chance

It would appear that, sometimes, miracles happen. A few days ago, an update graced the website of Insteon, a company whose abrupt shuttering we covered in detail two months ago. An entity described as “small group of passionate Insteon users” has bought what was left of the company, and is working on getting the infrastructure back up. Previously, there was no sign of life from the company’s APIs. Now, Insteon hubs are coming back to life — or perhaps, they’re Inste-online again.

We’ve explained that revival of these devices without acquiring the company IP would’ve been tricky because of stuff like certificate pinning, and of course, a pile of proprietary code. Buying a company that’s undergoing a liquidation is not exactly end-user-friendly, but it would seem that someone sufficiently business-savvy got it done. The new CEO, as reported by [CNX Software], is a member of an investment committee — it’s fair to assert that this would help. A more sustainable funding source rather than ‘sell hardware and then somehow provide indefinite services’ is promised; they are moving to a subscription model, but only for Insteon Hub users. Recurring payments don’t sound as bad when it comes to paying developers and covering operational costs, and we hope that this revival succeeds.

Nothing is mentioned about moving towards openness in software and hardware — something that protects users from such failures in the first place. The new company is ultimately vulnerable to the same failure mode, and may leave the users in the dark just as abruptly as a result. However, we have our fingers crossed that the updated business model holds, purely for users’ sake. At least, unlike with the Wink hub, Insteon’s transition to a subscription model is better than the Inste-off alternative.

We thank [Itay] for sharing this with us! Via [CNX Software].

Insteon Abruptly Shuts Down, Users Left Smart-Home-Less

In today’s “predictable things that happened before and definitely will happen again”, Insteon, a smart home company boasting the Insteon ecosystem of devices built around their proprietary communication standards, has shut down their servers without a warning. For almost two decades, Insteon used to offer products like smart light switches, dimmers, relays, various sensors, thermostats – the usual home automation offerings, all linked into a cozy system. Looking through the Insteon subreddit’s history, there were signs of the company’s decline for good half a year now, but things were mostly stable – until about a week ago, when users woke up and noticed that parts of their smart home network stopped working, the mobile app would no longer respond, and the company’s resources and infrastructure went down. What’s more – the C-rank management has scrubbed their LinkedIn profiles from mentioning Insteon and SmartLabs (Insteon’s parent company).

Screenshot of Insteon's 'service status' page, saying "All Services Online: There's currently no known issues affecting Insteon services"Instantly, the Insteon subreddit has livened up. People, rightfully angry about being literally left in the dark, were looking for answers – as if mocking them, Insteon’s homepage claimed that all services were operational. Others, having expected the shutdown to eventually happen, started collecting and rehosting rapidly disappearing documentation, helping each other keep their tech up in the meantime, and looking into alternative platforms. It turned out to be imperative that users don’t factory reset their Insteon hubs, since those have to communicate with the currently Inste-Gone servers as part of initial configuration, diligently verifying the SSL certificates. Sadly, quite a few users, unaware and going through the usual solutions to make their network function again, are now left with hubs that are essentially bricked, save for a few lucky ones.
Continue reading “Insteon Abruptly Shuts Down, Users Left Smart-Home-Less”

Bionic Eyes Go Dark

If you were blind, having an artificial retinal implant would mean the difference between seeing a few hundred pixels in greyscale and seeing all black, all the time. Imagine that you emerged from this total darkness, enjoyed a few years of mobility and your newfound sense, and then everything goes dark again because the company making the devices abandoned them for financial reasons.

This is a harrowing tale of close-source technology, and how a medical device that relies on proprietary hard- and software essentially holds its users hostage to the financial well-being of the company that produces it. When that company is a brash startup, with plans of making money by eventually pivoting away from retinal implants to direct cortical stimulation — a technology that’s in it’s infancy at best right now — that’s a risky bet to take. But these were people with no other alternative, and the technology is, or was, amazing.

One blind man with an implant may or may not have brain cancer, but claims that he can’t receive an MRI because Second Sight won’t release details about his implant. Those bugs in your eyes? When the firm laid off its rehab therapists, patients were told they weren’t going to get any more software updates.

If we were CEO of SecondSight, we know what we would do with our closed-source software and hardware right now. The company is facing bankruptcy, has lost significant credibility in the medical devices industry, and is looking to pivot away from the Argus system anyway. They have little to lose, and a tremendous amount of goodwill to gain, by enabling people to fix their own eyes.

Thanks to [Adrian], [Ben], [MLewis], and a few other tipsters for getting this one in!