Alarm System Defeated By $2 Wireless Dongle, Nobody Surprised

It seems a bit unfair to pile on a product that has already been roundly criticized for its security vulnerabilities. But when that product is a device that is ostensibly deployed to keep one’s family and belongings safe, it’s plenty fair. And when that device is an alarm system that can be defeated by a two-dollar wireless remote, it’s practically a responsibility.

The item in question is the SimpliSafe alarm system, a fully wireless, install-it-yourself system available online and from various big-box retailers. We’ve covered the system’s deeply flawed security model before, whereby SDRs can be used to execute a low-effort replay attack. As simple as that exploit is, it looks positively elegant next to [LockPickingLawyer]’s brute-force attack, which uses a $2 RF remote as a jammer for the 433-MHz wireless signal between sensors and the base unit.

With the remote in close proximity to the system, he demonstrates how easy it would be to open a door or window and enter a property guarded by SimpliSafe without leaving a trace. Yes, a little remote probably won’t jam the system from a distance, but a cheap programmable dual-band transceiver like those offered by Baofeng would certainly do the trick. Not being a licensed amateur operator, [LockPickingLawyer] didn’t test this, but we doubt thieves would have the respect for the law that an officer of the court does.

The bottom line with alarm systems is that you get what you pay for, or sadly, significantly less. Hats off to [LockPickingLawyer] for demonstrating this vulnerability, and for his many other lockpicking videos, which are well worth watching.

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Fail Of The Week: The Arduino Walkie That Won’t Talkie

There’s something seriously wrong with the Arduino walkie-talkie that [GreatScott!] built.

The idea is simple: build a wireless intercom so a group of motor scooter riders can talk in real-time. Yes, such products exist commercially, but that’s no fun at all. With a little ingenuity and a well-stocked parts bin, such a device should be easy to build on the cheap, right?

Apparently not. [GreatScott!] went with an Arduino-based design, partly due to familiarity with the microcontroller but also because it made the RF part of the project seemingly easier due to cheap and easily available nRF24 2.4 GHz audio streaming modules. Everything seems straightforward enough on the breadboard – an op-amp to boost the signal from the condenser mic, a somewhat low but presumably usable 16 kHz sampling rate for the ADC. The radio modules linked up, but the audio quality was heavily distorted.

[GreatScott!] assumed that the rat’s nest of jumpers on the breadboard was to blame, so he jumped right to a PCB build. It’s a logical step, but it seems like it might be where he went wrong, because the PCB version was even worse. We’d perhaps have isolated the issue with the breadboard circuit first; did the distortion come from the audio stage? Or perhaps did the digitization inject some distortion? Or could the distortion be coming from the RF stage? We’d want to answer a few questions like that before jumping to a final design.

We love that [GreatScott!] has no issue with posting his failures – we’ve covered his suboptimal CPU handwarmer, and his 3D-printed BLDC motor stator was a flop too. It’s always nice to post mortem these things to avoid a similar fate.

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Farting Baseball; From The Makers Of Self-Solving Rubik’s Cube

Some hackers have a style all their own that is immediately recognizable from one project to the next. For instance, you can tell a [Takashi Kaburagi] by its insides. The behavior of his Farting Baseball project (machine translation) is amusing, but the joke is only skin deep. Look inside and you’ll gain a huge appreciation for what has been done here. It’s not as mind-boggling as his work on the self-solving Rubiks cube robot, but the creativity and design constraints are similarly impressive.

Clever detail is the square of soft material used to cushion impact

This whimsical project is a curve ball no matter who throws it. While in flight, a jet of compressed gas can alter the trajectory at the press of a button. Inside is a small pressure vessel that is filled with HFC134A refrigerant commonly used on gas blowback pistols. It’s a non-combustible that lies in wait until a solenoid is activated to release the pressure in a powerful jet. The ball carries a CR2032 to power the wireless link for activation, but that solenoid needs more juice so capacitors are charged for this purpose.

It’s worth digging through the details on this one, including the article on measuring discharge time (machine translation). There are numerous nice touches, like the yellow Whoopee Cushion neck that directs the jet, the capacitor discharge materials so there is not an accidental activation when not in use, and clever and clean construction that make everything fit.

Another hacker with an equally iconic style is [Mohit Bhoite]’s work; make his flywire sculptures your next stop.

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Smart Bike Helmet Is Wireless

If you ride a bike, you probably share the road with a lot of cars. Unfortunately, they don’t always share the road very well with you. [Mech Tools] took a helmet, a few Arduinos, and some wireless transceivers and made headgear that shows when you stop and also shows turn signals. We were a little surprised, though, that the bike in question looks like a motorcycle. In most countries, motorcycle helmets meet strict safety standards and modifying them is probably not a good idea. However, it wasn’t exactly clear how the extra gear attached to the helmet, so it is hard to say if the project is very practical or not.

In particular, it looks as though the first version had the electronics just stuck to the outside of the helmet. The final one had things mounted internally and almost certainly had cuts or holes made for the lights. We aren’t sure which of those would be more likely to be a problem in the case of an accident.

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New Contest: Connected World

We’re on the lookout for the most interesting connected projects, things that communicate wirelessly to do something clever. Show us your creations and you can win the Connected World contest.

Chances are you’ve already been automating the world around you with wireless connections. This could be as simple as WiFi, or as convoluted as systems separated by miles yet connected via line-of-site laser communications. It could be 433 MHz wireless modules, or Bluetooth steering wheel control for your miniature robot. We’d really like to see a washing machine with a satellite uplink but we’d better be careful what we wish for.

We’ll pick the top 20 entries based on your creativity, execution, functionality, and how well you tell the backstory. Each will receive a free PCB coupon for up to $50 from OSH Park. Additionally, we’ll award the title of Best Project, Best Aesthetic, Best Documentation, and Best Media to four entries and give each a $100 Tindie gift card.

Don’t delay, put your project up on and use the dropdown box on the left sidebar to enter it in the Connected World contest.

The Great Ohio Key Fob Mystery, Or “Honey, I Jammed The Neighborhood!”

Hack long enough and hard enough, and it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll eventually cause unintentional RF emissions. Most of us will likely have our regulatory transgression go unnoticed. But for one unlucky hacker in Ohio, a simple project ended up with a knock at the door by local authorities and pointed questions to determine why key fobs and garage door remotes in his neighborhood and beyond had suddenly been rendered useless, and why his house seemed to be at the center of the disturbance.

Few of us want this level of scrutiny for our projects, so let’s take a more in-depth look at the Great Ohio Key Fob Mystery, along with a look at the Federal Communications Commission regulations that govern what you can and cannot do on the airwaves. As it turns out, it’s easy to break the law, and it’s easy to get caught.

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Simple, Self-Contained LoRa Repeater In About An Hour

[Dave Akerman]’s interest in high-altitude projects means he is no stranger to long-range wireless communications, for which LoRa is amazingly useful. LoRa is a method of transmitting at relatively low data rates with low power over long distances.

Despite LoRa’s long range, sometimes the transmissions of a device (like a balloon’s landed payload) cannot be received directly because it is too far away, or hidden behind buildings and geography. In these cases a useful solution is [Dave]’s self-contained LoRa repeater. The repeater hardware is simple, and [Dave] says that if one has the parts on hand, it can be built in about an hour.

The device simply re-transmits any telemetry packets it receives, and all that takes is an Arduino Mini Pro and a small LoRa module. A tiny DC-DC converter, battery, and battery charger rounds out the bill of materials to create a small and self-contained unit that can be raised up on a mast, flown on a kite, or carried by a drone.

The repeater’s frequency and other settings can even be reprogrammed (using a small windows program) for maximum flexibility, making the little device invaluable when going hunting for landed payloads like the one [Dave] used to re-create a famous NASA image using a plastic model and a high-altitude balloon. Check out the details on the GitHub repository for the project and start mashing “add to cart” for parts at your favorite reseller.