Steve July 4, 2020

Reverse engineering or modifying a device often requires you to access the firmware stored on a microcontroller. Since companies are usually not fond of people who try to peek into their proprietary data, most commercial devices are readout protected. [rumpeltux] ran into this problem when he tried to dump the firmware on an HC-12 wireless serial communication module for yet undisclosed reasons. Hacking into the device was a challenge that he gladly accepted and in the end, he succeeded by building a low-cost setup for voltage glitching.

Voltage glitching is a form of fault injection that has, e.g., been successfully used to hack the Playstation Vita. It involves the injection of voltage spikes on the power line in order to force the bootloader to skip security checks. The hard thing is trying to find the right shape of the waveform and the best way to inject the signal.

While there are already open-source boards for fault injection like ChipWhisperer, [rumpeltux] chose to build his own setup around an FPGA. By using a cheap EPM240 board, some MOSFET, and a USB-to-Serial converter, the total costs of the glitching setup were under 20 Euros. [rumpeltux] then recorded a larger number of voltage traces on the VCC pin around the reset phase and analyzed the differences. This helped him to pinpoint the best time for injecting the signal and refine the search space. After some unsuccessful attempts to glitch the VCC and GND pins, he got lucky when using one of the voltage regulator pins instead.

Be sure not to miss Samy Kamkar’s talk at Supercon 2019 if you want to know more about hardware attacks or how to eavesdrop on people using a bag of potato chips.

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