Books You Should Read: The Hardware Hacker’s Handbook

Here on Hackaday, we routinely cover wonderful informative writeups on different areas of hardware hacking, and we even have our own university with courses that delve into topics one by one. I’ve had my own fair share of materials I’ve learned theory and practical aspects from over the years I’ve been hacking – as it stands, for over thirteen years. When such materials weren’t available on any particular topic, I’d go through hundreds of forum pages trawling for details on a specific topic, or spend hours fighting with an intricacy that everyone else considered obvious.

Today, I’d like to highlight one of the most complete introductions to hardware hacking I’ve seen so far – from overall principles to technical details, spanning all levels of complexity, uniting theory and practice. This is The Hardware Hacking Handbook, by Jasper van Woudenberg and Colin O’Flynn. Across four hundred pages, you will find as complete of an introduction to subverting hardware as there is. None of the nuances are considered to be self-evident; instead, this book works to fill any gaps you might have, finding words to explain every relevant concept on levels from high to low.

Apart from the overall hardware hacking principles and examples, this book focuses on the areas of fault injection and power analysis – underappreciated areas of hardware security that you’d stand to learn, given that these two practices give you superpowers when it comes to taking control of hardware. It makes sense, since these areas are the focus of [Colin]’s and [Jasper]’s research, and they’re able to provide you something you wouldn’t learn elsewhere. You’d do well with a ChipWhisperer in hand if you wanted to repeat some of the things this book shows, but it’s not a requirement. For a start, the book’s theory of hardware hacking is something you would benefit from either way. Continue reading “Books You Should Read: The Hardware Hacker’s Handbook”

Audio Eavesdropping Exploit Might Make That Clicky Keyboard Less Cool

Despite their claims of innocence, we all know that the big tech firms are listening to us. How else to explain the sudden appearance of ads related to something we’ve only ever spoken about, seemingly in private but always in range of a phone or smart speaker? And don’t give us any of that fancy “confirmation bias” talk — we all know what’s really going on.

And now, to make matters worse, it turns out that just listening to your keyboard clicks could be enough to decode what’s being typed. To be clear, [Georgi Gerganov]’s “KeyTap3” exploit does not use any of the usual RF-based methods we’ve seen for exfiltrating data from keyboards on air-gapped machines. Rather, it uses just a standard microphone to capture audio while typing, building a cluster map of the clicks with similar sounds. By analyzing the clusters against the statistical likelihood of certain sequences of characters appearing together — the algorithm currently assumes standard English, and works best on clicky mechanical keyboards — a reasonable approximation of the original keypresses can be reconstructed.

If you’d like to see it in action, check out the video below, which shows the algorithm doing a pretty good job decoding text typed on an unplugged keyboard. Or, try it yourself — the link above implements KeyTap3 in-browser. We gave it a shot, but as a member of the non-mechanical keyboard underclass, it couldn’t make sense of the mushy sounds it heard. Then again, our keyboard inferiority affords us some level of protection from the exploit, so there’s that.

Editors Note: Just tried it on a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches and it couldn’t make heads or tails of what was typed, so your mileage may vary. Let us know if it worked for you in the comments.

What strikes us about this is that it would be super simple to deploy an exploit like this. Most side-channel attacks require such a contrived scenario for installing the exploit that just breaking in and stealing the computer would be easier. All KeyTap needs is a covert audio recording, and the deed is done.

Continue reading “Audio Eavesdropping Exploit Might Make That Clicky Keyboard Less Cool”

PicoEMP EMFI tool

Glitch Your Way To Reverse-Engineering Glory With The PicoEMP

Most of our projects are, to some extent, an exercise in glitch-reduction. Whether they’re self-inflicted software or hardware mistakes, or even if the glitches in question come from sources beyond our control, the whole point of the thing is to get it running smoothly and predictably.

That’s not always the case, though. Sometimes inducing a glitch on purpose can be a useful tool, especially when reverse engineering something. That’s where this low-cost electromagnetic fault injection tool could come in handy. EMFI is a way to disrupt the normal flow of a program running on an embedded system; properly applied and with a fair amount of luck, it can be used to put the system into an exploitable state. The PicoEMP, as [Colin O’Flynn] dubs his EMFI tool, is a somewhat tamer version of his previous ChipSHOUTER tool. PicoEMP focuses on user safety, an important consideration given that its business end can put about 250 volts across its output. Safety features include isolation for the Raspberry Pi Pico that generates the PWM signals for the HV section, a safety enclosure over the HV components, and a switch to discharge the capacitors and prevent unpleasant surprises.

In use, the high-voltage pulse is applied across an injection tip, which is basically a ferrite-core antenna. The tip concentrates the magnetic flux in a small area, which hopefully will cause the intended glitch in the target system. The video below shows the PicoEMP being used to glitch a Bitcoin wallet, as well as some tests on the HV pulse.

If you’re interested in the PicoEMP and glitching in general, be sure to watch out for [Colin]’s 2021 Remoticon talk on the subject. Until that comes out, you might want to look into glitching attacks on a Nintendo DSi and a USB glitch on a Wacom tablet.

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Side-Channel Attacks Hack Chat With Samy Kamkar

Join us on Wednesday, March 25 at noon Pacific for the Side-Channel Attacks Hack Chat with Samy Kamkar!

In the world of computer security, the good news is that a lot of vendors are finally taking security seriously now, with the result that direct attacks are harder to pull off. The bad news is that in a lot of cases, they’re still leaving the side-door wide open. Side-channel attacks come in all sorts of flavors, but they all have something in common: they leak information about the state of a system through an unexpected vector. From monitoring the sounds that the keyboard makes as you type to watching the minute vibrations of a potato chip bag in response to a nearby conversation, side-channel attacks take advantage of these leaks to exfiltrate information.

Side-channel exploits can be the bread and butter of black hat hackers, but understanding them can be useful to those of us who are more interested in protecting systems, or perhaps to inform our reverse engineering efforts. Samy Kamkar knows quite a bit more than a thing or two about side-channel attacks, so much so that he gave a great talk at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference on just that topic. He’ll be dropping by the Hack Chat to “extend and enhance” that talk, and to answer your questions about side-channel exploits, and discuss the reverse engineering potential they offer. Join us and learn more about this fascinating world, where the complexity of systems leads to unintended consequences that could come back to bite you, or perhaps even help you.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, March 25 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Continue reading “Side-Channel Attacks Hack Chat With Samy Kamkar”

Side Channel Attacks Against Mixed Signal Microcontrollers

You shouldn’t transmit encryption keys over Bluetooth, but that’s exactly what some popular wireless-enabled microcontrollers are already doing. This is the idea behind Screaming Channels, an exploit published by researchers at EUERCOM, and will be a talk at Black Hat next week. So far, the researchers have investigated side-channel attacks on Bluetooth-enabled microcontrollers, allowing them to extract tinyAES keys from up to 10 meters away in controlled environments. A PDF of the paper is available and all the relevant code is available on GitHub.

The experimental setup for this exploit consisted of a BLE Nano, a breakout board for a Nordic nRF52832 Bluetooth microcontroller, a Hack RF, a USRB N210 software defined radio from Ettus, and a few high-gain antennas and LNAs. The example attack relies on installing firmware on the BLE Nano that runs through a few loops and encrypts something with tinyAES. Through very careful analysis of the RF spectrum, the AES keys can be extracted from the ether.

Side channel attacks have received a bit more popularity over recent years. What was once limited to Three Letter Agency-level Van Eck phreaking can now be done inexpensively and in a system with devices like the ChipWhisperer.

Of course, this is only a demonstration of what is possible with side-channel attacks in a highly controlled environment with a significant amount of work gone into the firmware running on the microcontroller. This isn’t evidence that balaclava-wearing hackers are sniffing your phone from across the parking lot to get the password to your Instagram account, but it does show what is possible with relatively cheap, off-the-shelf hardware.