Hardware Hacking Week Recap

If you were busy in Cancun over spring break, you missed out on our hardware hacking workshop in the ISIS lab!

Hardware hacking is an important area of security research because while vulnerabilities in software and network interfaces have more visibility, vendors of hardware systems typically do not expect attacks at the hardware level to the same extent.  This may lead to poor consideration of security at the hardware level and leave systems open to attack.   Vulnerable systems can range from every day electronics like Blu-ray players, printers, and telephones to critical systems like medical electronics, core routers, and industrial control systems.

Here is an overview of some of the topics we covered at the workshop and a list of resources in case you want to get yourself up to speed on what you will need to know to work with hardware.

Current, Voltage, and Basic Circuits:  These are the basics that you will need to know about to poke around on a printed circuit board (PCB).

More advanced circuit elements:  You will probably run into these, but you might not necessarily need to understand the math behind them.

Bus Protocols:  These are common protocols used to connect chips and embedded devices for communication, programming, and debugging.

Tools to help in your task:

Tips on getting started:

  • Look for markings on ICs.  Manufacturer imprints and model numbers can give you a general idea of what a chip does, and a web search will usually get you a white paper describing the pin-outs and functions of a chip.  Check http://www.digikey.com/http://www.findchips.com/, and of course, http://www.google.com/

  • Try to determine a floorplan for the PCB.  PCB designers typically partition PCBs into functional “rooms” and keep components for similar functions and sub-systems within these areas.  Power supplies, for example, will typically have heavy copper traces, voltage regulator ICs, and large capacitors nearby.  Radios will typically be covered with shielding.  Broadly modelling the PCB floorplan may help you understand functions of components and what they are doing in a particular area.

  • Look for dedicated bus pins on ICs that you find, and start looking from there.  A logic analyzer or oscilloscope could help you in locating useful signals.  You might get lucky and find a serial console.

  • Find online communities dedicated to your target.  Large groups may already exist dedicated to particular manufacturers and products, and there may already be community documentation that can help you understand your target.

Projects:  A key to getting started with anything new is picking a project and setting goals for youself.  Students brought in a number of interesting projects consisting of old hardware to work on during the workshop:

Now that you’ve got the lay of the land, it’s time to dive in.  Good Luck, and try not to let the magic smoke escape!