HackRF – A Must-Have Gadget

Dear readers,

today we welcomed Michael Ossmann at the ERNW headquarter for an exclusive workshop on his HackRF gadget. Everybody was quite excited to get hands-on with this shiny piece of hardware, which is currently crowd-funded on Kickstarter. For everybody who’s not familiar with Software Defined Radio (SDR): Let’s regard it as the ultimate tool when working with radio signals.

Michael Ossmann
Michael Ossmann in the house.

Let’s quote Michael’s campaign website:

Transmit or receive any radio signal from 30 MHz to 6000 MHz on USB power with HackRF. HackRF is an open source hardware project to build a Software Defined Radio (SDR) peripheral.

SDR is the application of Digital Signal Processing to radio waveforms. It is similar to the software-based digital audio techniques that became popular a couple of decades ago. Just as a sound card in a computer digitizes audio waveforms, a software radio peripheral digitizes radio waveforms. It’s like a very fast sound card with the speaker and microphone replaced by an antenna. A single software radio platform can be used to implement virtually any wireless technology (Bluetooth, ZigBee, cellular technologies, FM radio, etc.).

Also check out the campaign video:

Now back to our exclusive happening: It’s going GREAT! I mean we’ve already got plenty of positive feedback on Michael’s excellent talk at TROOPERS12 and even more enthusiastic feedback from all the attendees of his SDR workshop at this year’s TROOPERS13. But experiencing Michael’s teaching skills first hand is just mind-blowing.

Tau vs Pi
“All the cool kids use τ instead of π these days.” – Mike Ossmann during his complex numbers 101

Equipped with a slinky toy and a flip chart he does what generations of university professors didn’t accomplish: He makes hard stuff easy. Complex numbers with Mike? Not so complex anymore…

When TROOPERS13 kicked in the whole team was really busy with running the workshops and setting up the conference. It’s the usual game of trying to exceed the expectations of all external parties involved. The downside: The team isn’t hardly consuming any of the excellent content. That’s when Enno Rey jumped in and said: Well, let’s do another mini-TROOPERS just for the team!

And here we are – one week full of awesomeness:

All you need: Mate, slinky toy, cool stickers, workshop manual and our beloved HackRF.
  • Monday/Tuesday: HackRF session by Mike Ossmann

  • Wednesday: Facedancer session by Travis Goodspeed

  • Thursday/Friday: A mixed hacking session including the RaspberryPi, magnet card readers and TPMs by our Brian Butterly

Let’s add some yummy fast food for lunch and proper food for a shared dinner. That’s how we roll. On behalf of the team I want to thank Enno, who is with customers in the meanwhile, for flying in Michael and Travis.

Good news for everybody!

Now for all team members who’re not able to attend and you, our loyal readers: Because Michael reached the $400.000 stretch goal, he will share a video version of his SDR-workshop with all the backers! How insanely cool is that? So nobody is missing anything… just head over to the project page, choose one of the funding deals and join the radio hacking fun. The HackRF is available at the $275 (+ $15 shipping, if outside the USA) pledge level. For everybody who wants to meet Mike in person: Well, TROOPERS14 (March 17-21 2014, Heidelberg) registration is open and we’re hoping to have him here again 🙂

What’s coming tomorrow?

XyLoc tags doing their work - all visible with HackRF's raw data in baudline.
XyLoc tags doing their work – all visible with HackRF’s raw data in baudline.

I’m not too technical to fully grasp all the possibilities of this gadget, but even for me it was plain fun to get it working, follow the workshop exercises in gnuradio-companion, getting first readings off my HackRF prototype and seeing some XyLoc tags disclosing their communication.

Doing searches in raw data within the somewhat awkward baudline tool gained another round of deep insights. Up for tomorrow: Reintroducing recorded communication into the radio chatter – all possible with the HackRF. Exciting to say the least!

Let’s see if there’s time tomorrow for another blog post on the results and new adventures.

Take care & consider backing the HackRF now – the campaign lasts another 9 days from here on.

Have a great day!
Florian & team