Bay Area SDR Hackfest Day Four: Hacking Away at SDR

Energies were high today as teams feverishly worked through the Hackfest Missions. The countdown to the final flights commenced as we continued to see progress from the eight teams on-site. We experienced our busiest day yet in the flight hangar as teams made multiple trips to test out their solutions and make final adjustments. Curious attendees and technical experts were also on-site, lending a hand when and where needed to provide suggestions, guidance, or offer other assistance to teams and the various SDR projects happening across the event.

In the afternoon, we had another engaging Brainstorming Session with Hackfest attendees and teams. One attendee discussed how as technology becomes cheaper and more accessible to both allies and adversaries, there’s the ever present need to remain ahead of the threats. He encouraged a broader conversation around ideas and solutions to potential attacks or vulnerabilities created by low-cost technologies. We also heard from an attendee whose company is focused on better understanding how wireless protocols work and developing better ways to defend them. As the Hackfest participants develop solutions in the final days of the event, he encouraged everyone to think about how their developments could be undermined and what can be built back into their solutions to ensure their safety.

During the Lighting Talks, we heard about an autonomous drone development platform from Intel and saw progress that has been made against Ben Hilburn’s earlier ask to make GNU Radio more accessible.

The cyber theme that emerged during our Brainstorming Sessions continued through our evening keynote presentations. Our first speaker was Joe Grand, a product designer, hardware hacker, and the founder of Grand Idea Studio. He has spent over a decade discovering security flaws in embedded systems and teaching others how to reverse engineer such systems. Joe was also on the Discovery Channel show, Prototype This! The early 2000s show was designed to help people better understand how things were built or engineered by creating off-the-wall technologies and inventions. Through his experiences on the show, Joe learned a surprising amount about how to build a successful business. He shared the insights he gained from Prototype This! as well as the knowledge he gleaned from creating other startups over the years. Some of Joe’s advice to would-be entrepreneurs: team chemistry is essential, don’t be fooled by a good story, it’s critical to understand your market, you should learn from your mistakes, and, most importantly, you should love what you do.

Samy Kamkar was our second speaker of the evening. Samy is an independent security researcher best known for creating The MySpace worm, the fastest spreading virus of all time. He took us through his early experiences with the Internet and explained how he was introduced to hacking. He walked us through his early days of hacking and what the lead up to the creation of the MySpace worm was like as well as the ultimate aftermath. Once the dust had settled from this situation, he decided to start legally acquiring technologies and investigating how they worked with the goal of uncovering potential issues and security vulnerabilities. He also became interested in privacy concerns and the technical vulnerabilities that are intentionally or unintentionally sharing personal information. Similar to the Brainstorm Session discussion, Samy concluded with a warning about the threats created by low-cost technologies and the continued need for responsible disclosure.

It was another great day at the Hackfest and tomorrow promises to bring even more excitement as the teams take to the range for their final flights. Check back tomorrow for the preliminary results of our final day of hacking and to learn more about the great work the SDR community produced over the past few days.