Which Wireless Is Right Wireless?

Back in the early days of Arduino proliferation (and before you ask, yes we realize there was a time before that too), wireless was a strange and foreign beast. IR communication was definitely a thing. And if you had the funds there was this cool technology called ZigBee that was available, often in funny blue house-shaped XBee boards. With even more funds and a stomach for AT commands you could even bolt on a 2G cell radio for unlimited range. WiFi existed too, but connecting it to a hobbyist ecosystem of boards was a little hairier (though maybe not for our readership).

But as cell phones pushed demand for low power wireless forward and the progression of what would become the Internet of marking Terms (the IoT, of course) began, a proliferation of options appeared for wireless communication. Earlier this week we came across a great primer on some of the major wireless technologies which was put together by Digikey earlier in the year. Let’s not bury the lede. This table is the crux of the piece:

There are some neat entries here that are a little less common (and our old friend, the oft-maligned and never market-penetrating ZigBee). It’s actually even missing some entries. Let’s break it down:

  • Extremely short range: Just NFC. Very useful for transferring small amount of sensitive information slowly, or things with high location-relevance (like between phones that are touching).
  • Short range: BLE, Zigbee, Z-Wave, etc. Handy for so-called Personal Area Networks and home-scale systems.
  • Medium/long range: Wifi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave, LoRaWAN: Sometimes stretching for a kilometer or more in open spaces. Useful for everything from emitting tweets to stitching together a mesh network across a forrest, as long as there are enough nodes. Some of these are also useful at shorter range.
  • Very Long range/rangeless: Sigfox, NB-IoT, LTE Category-0. Connect anywhere, usually with some sort of subscription for network access. Rangeless in the sense that range is so long you use infrastructure instead of hooking a radio up to a Raspberry Pi under your desk. Though LoRa can be a fun exception to that.

You’re unlikely to go from zero to custom wireless solution without getting down into the mud with the available dev boards for a few different common protocols, but which ones? The landscape has changed so rapidly over the years, it’s easy to get stuck in one comfortable technology and miss the appearance of the next big thing (like how LoRaWAN is becoming new cool kid these days). This guide is a good overview to help catch you up and help decide which dev kits are worth a further look. But of course we still want to hear from you below about your favorite wireless gems — past, present, and future — that didn’t make it into the list (we’re looking at you 433 MHz).

Dual Direction Gaming/Dining Room Beam Lights

Sometimes, you just can’t find something you want, and that’s when you break out the tools and get dirty with a bit of DIY. Reddit user [JaredBanyard] wanted a nice beam light for the dining room/gaming room. He ended up building one that shone both downward, on the table, and upward, adding some light to the room.

Warm white LED strip lighting was chosen, and two aluminum channels were glued together to hold them. After wiring the four LED strips together a diffuser was placed over them and then they were wired up and turned on to check the amount of light. With two strips per channel, even with the diffuser, there was plenty.

Each pair of channels were set into the main housing, which is made from Sirari hardwood. Two long outside side pieces make for a great looking final product, and the end pieces are sandwiched between the two outside pieces. After a bit of sanding and an application of matte polyacrylic, transformers were screwed inside and then the channels were placed on top. The circuitry was wired to a Z-Wave dimmer to control the lights remotely.

[JaredBanyard]’s put together a bill of materials and there are plenty of pictures. It’s a great, unique, light for the room, which includes a Duchess gaming table from boardgametables.com. For more lighting articles, check out this 2017 Hackaday Prize entry article on modular rail lighting, or this article about adding intelligence to your lighting solution.

[via Reddit]

Shmoocon 2017: So You Want To Hack RF

Far too much stuff is wireless these days. Home security systems have dozens of radios for door and window sensors, thermostats aren’t just a wire to the furnace anymore, and we are annoyed when we can’t start our cars from across a parking lot. This is a golden era for anyone who wants to hack RF. This year at Shmoocon, [Marc Newlin] and [Matt Knight] of Bastille Networks gave an overview of how to get into hacking RF. These are guys who know a few things about hacking RF; [Marc] is responsible for MouseJack and KeySniffer, and [Matt] reverse engineered the LoRa PHY.

In their talk, [Marc] and [Matt] outlined five steps to reverse engineering any RF signal. First, characterize the channel. Determine the modulation. Determine the symbol rate. Synchronize a receiver against the data. Finally, extract the symbols, or get the ones and zeros out of the analog soup.

From [Marc] and [Matt]’s experience, most of this process doesn’t require a radio, software or otherwise. Open source intelligence or information from regulatory databases can be a treasure trove of information regarding the operating frequency of the device, the modulation, and even the bit rate. The pertinent example from the talk was the FCC ID for a Z-wave module. A simple search revealed the frequency of the device. Since the stated symbol rate was twice the stated data rate, the device obviously used Manchester encoding. These sorts of insights become obvious once you know what you’re looking for.

In their demo, [Marc] and [Matt] went through the entire process of firing up GNU Radio, running a Z-wave decoder and receiving Z-wave frames. All of this was done with a minimum of hardware and required zero understanding of what radio actually is, imaginary numbers, or anything else a ham license will hopefully teach you. It’s a great introduction to RF hacking, and shows anyone how to do it.

Asking The Security Question Of Home Automation

“Security” is the proverbial dead horse we all like to beat when it comes to technology. This is of course not unjust — we live in a technological society built with a mindset of “security last”. There’s always one reason or another proffered for this: companies need to fail fast and will handle security once a product proves viable, end users will have a harder time with setup and use if systems are secured or encrypted, and governments/law enforcement don’t want criminals hiding behind strongly secured systems.

This is an argument I don’t want to get bogged down in. For this discussion let’s all agree on this starting point for the conversation: any system that manages something of value needs some type of security and the question becomes how much security makes sense? As the title suggests, the technology du jour is home automation. When you do manage to connect your thermostat to your door locks, lights, window shades, refrigerator, and toilet, what type of security needs to be part of the plan?

Join me after the break for an overview of a few Home Automation security concerns. This article is the third in our series — the first asked What is Home Automation and the second discussed the Software Hangups we face.

These have all been inspired by the Automation challenge round of the Hackaday Prize. Document your own Automation project by Monday morning to enter. Twenty projects will win $1000 each, becoming finalists with a chance at the grand prize of $150,000. We’re also giving away Hackaday T-shirts to people who leave comments that help carry this discussion forward, so let us know what you think below.

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Shmoocon 2016: Z-Wave Protocol Hacked With SDR

The first talk at 2016 Shmoocon was a great one. Joseph Hall and Ben Ramsey presented their work hacking Z-Wave, a network that has been gaining a huge market share in both consumer and industrial connected devices. EZ-Wave uses commodity Software Defined Radio to exploit Z-Wave networks. This is not limited to sniffing, but also used for control with the potential for mayhem.

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A Better Way To Hack The Wink

If you’re looking for Home Automation appliances, you might want to check out the Wink Hub. It’s fifty bucks, and has six radios on board: WiFi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and 433MHz Lutron and Kidde. That’s an insane amount of connectivity in a very cheap package. It’s been pwnzor3d before, but dinnovative has a much better solution for getting root on this device.

Earlier methods of rooting the Wink involved passing commands via URLs – something that’s not exactly secure. The new method leverages what’s already installed on the Wink, specifically Dropbear, to generate public keys on the Wink hub and getting that key onto another computer securely. The complete exploit is just a few lines in a terminal, but once that’s done you’ll have a rooted Wink hub.

Even though the Wink hub has been rooted a few times before, we haven’t seen anything that leverages the capabilities of this hardware. There isn’t another device with a bunch of IoT radios on the market for $50, and we’re dying to see what people can come up with. If you’ve done something with your Wink, send it in on the tip line.

Raspi Z-Wave Automation Is Automated

raspiAutomationLocksnLights

Home automation keeps popping up here at Hackaday, so [Cristian Zatonyl] decided to share his Raspberry Pi-based system with us. This build takes a firm stance on the “automated” side of the automation vs. control debate we had last week: no user input necessary. Instead, [Cristian] relies on geofencing to detect whether he has driven outside the set radius and automatically turns off the lights and locks his door.

The build takes advantage of Z-Wave products, which are your typical wireless remote-control gadgets, but tacks on a third-party “RaZberry” board to a Raspi to give it control over off-the-shelf Z-wave devices. The final step is the integration of a custom iOS app that keeps tabs on the geofence boundaries and signals the Pi to control the lights and the front door lock.

[Cristian’s] tutorial covers the basics and admits that it’s a proof of concept without any security features. Judging by his other YouTube videos, however, we’re sure more developments are underway. Check out the video below for a demonstration of the system, then feel free to speculate on security concerns in the comments. Our article on Z-wave security from a few years ago might be a good starting point.

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