Mobile SIGINT Hacking On A Civilian’s Budget

Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) refers to performing electronic reconnaissance by eavesdropping on communications, and used to be the kind of thing that was only within the purview of the military or various three letter government agencies. But today, for better or for worse, the individual hacker is able to pull an incredible amount of information out of thin air with low-cost hardware and open source software. Now, thanks to [Josh Conway], all that capability can be harnessed with a slick all-in-one device: the RadioInstigator.

In his talk at the recent 2019 CircleCityCon, [Josh] (who also goes by the handle [CrankyLinuxUser]) presented the RadioInstigator as an affordable way to get into the world of wireless security research beyond the traditional WiFi and Bluetooth. None of the hardware inside the device is new exactly, it’s all stuff the hacking community has had access to for a while now, but this project brings them all together under one 3D printed “roof” as it were. The end result is a surprisingly practical looking device that can be used on the go to explore huge swaths of the RF spectrum at a cost of only around $150 USD.

So what has [Josh] packed into this wireless toybox? It will probably come as little surprise to find out that the star of the show is a Raspberry Pi 3 B+, combined with a touch screen display and portable keyboard so the user can interface with the various security tools installed.

To help the RadioInstigator surf the airwaves there’s an RTL-SDR and a 2.4 Ghz nRF24LU1+ “Crazyradio”, both broken out to external antenna connectors on the outside of the device. There’s even an external SMA connector hooked up to the Pi’s GPIO pin, which can be used for low-power transmissions from 5 KHz up to 1500 MHz with rpitx. Everything is powered by a beefy 10,000 mAh battery pack which should give you plenty of loiter time to perform your investigations.

[Josh] has also written several Bash scripts which will get a trove of radio hacking tools installed on the Pi automatically, either by pulling them in through the official repositories or downloading the source and compiling them. Getting the software environment into a known-good state can be a huge time sink, so even if you don’t build your own version of the RadioInstigator, his scripts are still worth checking out.

You can do some pretty incredible things with nothing more than a Pi and an RTL-SDR, but we can’t help but notice there’s still plenty of room inside the RadioInstigator for more gear. It could be the perfect home for a Mult-RTL setup, or maybe even a VGA adapter for spoofing cell networks.

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Automate Your Home From The Clearance Rack

The month or so after the holidays have always been a great time to pick up some interesting gadgets on steep clearance, but with decorations and lights becoming increasingly complex over the last few years, the “Christmas Clearance” rack is an absolute must see for enterprising hackers. You might just luck out like [ModernHam] and find a couple packs of these dirt cheap wireless light controllers, which can fairly easily be hacked into the start of a home automation system with little more than the Raspberry Pi and a short length of wire.

In the video after the break, [ModernHam] walks the viewer through the start to finish process of commanding these cheap remote plugs. Starting with finding which frequencies the remotes use thanks to the FCC database and ending with using cron to schedule the transmission of control signals from the Pi, his video really is a wealth of information. Even if you don’t have this particular model of remote plug, or don’t necessarily want to setup a home automation system, there’s probably some element of this video that you could still adapt to your own projects.

The first step of the process is figuring out how the remote is communicating to the plugs. [ModernHam] noticed there was no frequency listed on the devices, but using their FCC IDs he was able to find the relevant information. In the United States, devices like these must have their FCC IDs visible (though they could be behind a battery door) by law, so the searchable database is an invaluable tool to do some basic reconnaissance on a poorly documented gadget.

An RTL-SDR receiver is then used to fine tune the information gleaned from the FCC filing. [ModernHam] found that the signals for all four of the remote plugs were being broadcast on the same frequency, which makes controlling them all the easier. Using the rtl-sdr command, he was able to capture the various signals from the transmitter and save them to separate files. Then it’s just a matter of replaying the appropriate file to get the plugs to do your bidding.

Of course, the RTL-SDR can’t transmit so you’ll have to leave your dongle behind for this last step. Luckily all you need to transmit is the rpitx package created by [F5OEO], along with a supported Raspberry Pi and a small length of wire attached to the appropriate GPIO pin. This package contains the tool sendiq which can be used to replay the raw captures made in the previous step. With some scripting, it’s fairly straightforward to automate these transmissions to control the remote plugs however you wish from the Pi.

The RTL-SDR Blog put together their own guide for “brute forcing” simple remote control devices like this as well, and we’ve even seen similar techniques used against automotive key fobs in the past. Amazing what a piece of wire and some clever code can pull off.

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