Manhattan Mystery Of Creepy Jingles And Random Noises Solved

Here’s a puzzler for you: If you’re phreaking something that’s not exactly a phone, are you still a phreak?

That question probably never crossed the minds of New Yorkers who were acoustically assaulted on the normally peaceful sidewalks of Manhattan over the summer by creepy sounds emanating from streetside WiFi kiosks. The auditory attacks caused quite a stir locally, leading to wild theories that Russian hackers were behind it all. Luckily, the mystery has been solved, and it turns out to have been part prank, part protest, and part performance art piece.

To understand the exploit, realize that New York City has removed thousands of traditional pay phones from city sidewalks recently and replaced them with LinkNYC kiosks, which are basically WiFi hotspots with giant HDTV displays built into them. For the price of being blitzed with advertisements while strolling by, anyone can make a free phone call using the built-in VOIP app. That was the key that allowed [Mark Thomas], an old-school phreak and die-hard fan of the pay telephones that these platforms supplanted, to launch his attack. It’s not exactly rocket surgery; [Mark] dials one of the dozens of conference call numbers he has set up with pre-recorded audio snippets. A one-minute delay lets him crank the speakerphone volume up to 11 and abscond. The recordings vary, but everyone seemed most creeped out by the familiar jingle of the [Mr. Softee] ice cream truck franchise, slowed down and distorted to make it sound like something from a fever dream.

Yes, it’s a minimal hack, and normally we don’t condone the misuse of public facilities, even ones as obnoxious as LinkNYC appears to be. But it does make a statement about the commercialization of the public square, and honestly, we’re glad to see something that at least approaches phreaking again. It’s a little less childish than blasting porn audio from a Target PA system, and far less dangerous than activating a public safety siren remotely.

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Covert Remote Protest Transmitters

As a piece of protest art, “Covert Remote Protest Transmitters” ticks all the boxes. An outdoor covert projector that displayed anti-globalization messages at a G20 summit is protest. To disguise it inside a surveillance camera body housing — sticking it to the man from inside one of his own tools — is art. And a nice hack.

However you feel about the politics of globalization (and frankly, we’re stoked to be able to get cheap tech from anywhere in the world) the open-source DIY guidebook to building the rig (PDF) makes up for it all.

They installed the camera/projector long before the summit, where it sat dormant on a wall. A cell phone inside turned on the projector’s light with each ring because they attached a relay to the cell phone’s speaker circuit. In the instructions there’s an example of using a light-dependent resistor (CdS cell) to do the same thing, relying on the phone’s backlight functionality instead. There are a lot of ways to go here.

The optics consist of a couple of lenses aligned by trial and error, then fixed in place to a balsa wood frame with hot glue. A big fat Cree LED and driver provide the photons.

The video documentation of the piece is great. It’s mostly the news media reacting to the art piece as a “security breach”. A security breach would be a gun or a bomb. This was an overhead projector displaying messages that were out of the organizers’ control. Equating security with the supression of dissent is double-plus-ungood. Touché, CRPT.

Anyway, while you’re getting prepped for your next protest, have a look at the Image Fulgurator.

RiotNAS: Mobile Storage For Street Photography

riotnas1

You’re likely aware of the protests and demonstrations happening throughout Venezuela over the past few months, and as it has with similar public outcries in recent memory, technology can provide unique affordances to those out on the streets. [Alfredo] sent us this tip to let us know about riotNAS: a portable storage device for photos and videos taken by protesters (translated).

The premise is straightforward: social media is an ally for protesters on the ground in these situations, but phones and cameras are easily recognized and confiscated. riotNAS serves up portable backup storage via a router running OpenWRT and Samba. [Alfredo] then connected some USB memory for external storage and a battery that gives around 4 hours of operating time.

For now he’s put the equipment inside a soft, makeup-looking bag, which keeps it inconspicuous and doesn’t affect the signal.  Check out his website for future design plans—including stashing the device inside a hollowed out book—and some sample photos stored on the riotNAS system. If you’re curious what’s going on in Venezuela, hit up the Wikipedia page or visit some of the resources at the bottom of [Alfredo’s] site.