I managed to get pre-release copy of Andrew “Bunnie” Huang’s new book “The Hardware Hacker” recently. I opened it up to begin thumbing through it, and was immediately drawn in.
.. I rented a cheap apartment in Shenzhen and engaged in the “monastic study of manufacturing”; for the price of one night in Las Vegas, I lived in Shenzen for a month. I deliberately picked neighborhoods with no English speakers, and forced myself to learn the language and customs to survive. (Although I’m ethnically Chinese, my parents prioritized accent-free fluency in English over learning Chinese.) I wandered the streets at night and observed the back alleys, trying to make sense of all the strange and wonderful things I saw going on during the daytime. Business continues in Shenzhen until the wee hours of the morning, but at a much slower pace. At night, I could make out lone agents acting out their interests and intentions
This little excerpt is on the third page, and had me hooked immediately. In my mind, this is like something that was ripped right out of a William Gibson cyberpunk novel. As I’ve grazed from point to point in this book, that image just keeps getting stronger. The crazy part is, it is all 100% factual.
The book has a few focuses, ranging from lessons in manufacturing, to law construction on what you can and can’t do (and how it changes as you cross oceans), and even hardware hacking and reverse engineering. It is an interesting combination of useful reference information and amusing stories. Regardless of whether the subject is the difficulties of producing a completely open-source laptop, or the merits of exploring genetic manipulation, the stories are enthralling and all include tidbits that will help you improve as a hacker.
One area that really stands out is the hardware hacking section of the book. Bunnie doesn’t just say that he hacked something, and leave out the details. He dives in head first and breaks everything down so you can truly follow along, even with a bit of limited technical knowledge. In one area, he devotes pages to explaining how SD cards work, the differences between manufacture methods, and how he was hacking them. I learned more about SD cards in these few pages than I imagined possible.
Legal issues are a strong theme in the book as well. One interesting example is the NeTV. The idea was simple; allow people to overlay custom information on their TV from a source they choose. It should be a simple task. Simply create a little device that uses an alpha map or something and combine the feeds. However, decryption and altering an HDMI (HDCP) feed is technically illegal! Bunnie circumvented this by applying his “treat legal issues like engineering problems” and had the NeTV use alternative methods which still allowed the end user to achieve the same effect without decrypting the hdmi feed, but rather using some engineering tricks to display it “behind” other information. This is a simplified explanation, you’d have to find the chapter in the book to get the full story, and it is well worth your time.
I’d highly recommend this book for anyone interested in hacking, or even just casually interested in cyberpunk science fiction!
To get a taste of what is in store, watch this fun interview of Bunnie with Limor from Adafruit
note: there is a blank gap at the beginning of this video, fast forward a bit and it is fine.