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Solutions for Industrial Computing

The Solutions for Industrial Computing Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about industrial computers, systems and controllers; communications and connectivity; software and control; and power strategies. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

Oh, The Humanity: You Can Now Instantly Kill A Computer For $50

Posted December 08, 2016 12:00 AM by Hannes

I recently took an interest in home defense—y’know, just in case. Inspired by a friend who lives way out in the country and keeps a Louisville Slugger in an umbrella stand by his front door, I decided to go the baseball bat route. While shopping for one on Amazon, I came across a line of polypropylene bats—some of which were a good 5” shorter than a regulation bat—made by Cold Steel. The company-provided description is laughable: in their words, coaches were coming to them looking for an “indestructible” bat, so they made them one that’s great for playing ball and can “even be used for self-defense.” It became immediately apparent, despite the ad copy, that this was a bat made for breaking skulls and kneecaps. It’s much heavier than a normal bat and is probably useless for baseball, and Cold Steel’s other products include brass knuckles, knives, machetes, blowguns, and tomahawks. I’m assuming the baseball shtick is for liability purposes.

I had the same thought when I recently read about a new commercialized version of the USB Killer, a “device designed to [test] the surge protection of electronics to their limits—and beyond.” An anonymous hacker going by the name Dark Purple developed the device last year, but the appropriately named company launched the €50 commercial product this fall. Most tech pundits seriously doubt the USB Killer’s advertised use: just as Cold Steel bats are covertly intended to whack people, the USB Killer is actually a weaponized USB stick designed to fry the crap out of unprotected electronics.

Hardware-wise, the USB Killer is relatively simple. As soon as it’s inserted into an unprotected port, a DC-DC converter draws power from the host device and stores it in a capacitor bank. When the bank reaches a -220 V potential, the Killer blasts the stored power into the host’s USB data lines. Unless the host is protected against overvoltage, the USB Killer will disable anything from the port itself to the entire hardware system. As this video shows, devices handle the overvoltage differently, and many newer phones and computers are completely immune to it.

Obviously, this device will probably see malicious use more often than not. One could imagine a punk kid frying his entire school’s electronics inventory, or a disgruntled employee doing the same to an unsuspecting employer. I could be wrong, but the “use this device to test for overvoltage protection” angle seems like a load of BS to cover the manufacturer’s behind. And the damage isn’t limited to $2,000 laptops—the rise of the IoT and increased connection means that more and more devices, including the majority of cars on the road, have USB ports and could easily suffer major damage. Hackers could easily disable necessary infrastructure like life-support machines or air traffic control systems for about $50. Imagine if the Killer was plugged into a USB power adapter and connected to mains.

USB sticks have long been covertly used for malicious activities. Malware-infected thumb drives look benign but can spread worms like wildfire, whether intentionally or not. USB drives were supposedly the first delivery method for the high-profile, controversial Stuxnet worm until its progenitors developed more sophisticated methods. The only true defense against malicious USBs is to either cap ports or train users to never, ever accept or insert unknown hardware. But the potential damage from giving the USB Killer to an unwitting accomplice is still the stuff of nightmares.

Image credit: John / CC BY 2.0

10 comments; last comment on 12/10/2016
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Programmable Digital Power Control

Posted April 06, 2016 1:33 PM by SavvyExacta

The digital power IC market is forecast to grow more than 40% year over year until 2019.

Applications outside of the server and telecommunication sectors are beginning to adopt digital control and digital management solutions as manufacturers become more aware of the benefits they can offer compared with some analog products. These include reducing the overall bill of materials cost by reducing the number of discrete components, reducing the overall footprint, increasing power density, providing the ability to monitor and optimize power levels and system requirements while in operation and speeding up product time to market.

Features of microcontrollers dedicated to power conversion allow engineers to make full use of digital power conversion benefits such as:

  • Faster time to market
  • More accurate control
  • Scalability
  • Fewer components

Which of these benefits is most important to you?

Understand the benefits of digital power conversion and more in a webinar by Infineon.

Webinar Details:

April 12, 2016 - Tuesday. Available on-demand for 90 days after the live broadcast.

10:00 AM EDT - 11:00 AM EDT

Learn More


1 comments; last comment on 04/07/2016
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Matrix Cloud Support or Run down a Rabbit Hole?

Posted January 15, 2015 9:00 AM by CR4 Guest Author
Pathfinder Tags: cloud Cloud Computing

The decision on how to provide software systems support for your employees requires careful consideration regarding the benefits and disadvantages that you will face with onsite vs cloud support. Consider the movie The Matrix, where one of the main characters, Neo, is given a choice by Morpheus between two realities. He has the first choice of a blue pill, where he stays in his existing reality that is a fully supported matrix cloud computing environment but if he chooses the red pill then he leaves the matrix cloud and enters the rabbit hole where he must create his own reality with the tools, talent and software that he can build on his own.

So, the challenge that Morpheus poses is "You take the blue pill the story ends; you wake up in bed and believe what you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes…"

Choosing cloud vs onsite support

The movie The Matrix deals with two realities; first is the matrix construct which allows all the users and inhabitants to live in a blissful, fully supported state where all their needs are taken care of and then second is the real world outside of the matrix where people and teams must supply their own resources, maintain their own version of the construct and survive all the technology advances on their own. The heroes in the movie give people a choice; they can stay in the Matrix cloud or they can brave the world on their own.

Building the server technology infrastructure

The Matrix highlights a large dichotomy between those who live in the matrix and those who build their own system. Within the Matrix the machines own the construct which controls the world where people are held captive. They have the materials and the power to maintain the massive programs while addressing all the needs of those who use the matrix cloud. Those who have left the matrix construct are forced to build their own worlds. They build generators, ships and computer systems and must still connect with the construct to operate in the matrix world. When you are choosing between onsite or cloud support for your computer network infrastructure you must consider if you have the resources and technology available to support the system onsite or if your computer network should be supported off-site.

Latest and greatest software available

In The Matrix the machines own the construct which is the software brains behind the matrix itself. Since the machines own the software they continue to build and develop it to better serve the needs of the machines and the latest advances are always available for their users. For the users outside the matrix they must access the matrix to see what changes have been made and then either download the changes or risk not being able to interface with the matrix world. When you choose cloud support for your computer network you will have access to the latest and greatest software without having to download new versions and install them. The server owners will control all of the software updates and will install them at their convenience and hopefully, the transition will be seamless and go unnoticed by your users. But sometimes the transition is not so seamless and your cloud support may transition and impact your users. When you have onsite support you will need to purchase, install and schedule updates to your network software and will have to manage all of these changes internally while maintaining network availability.

Technical support structure and expertise

When you are considering whether to have an onsite software systems or use cloud support you must consider if you have the technical expertise to support the network onsite. Neo could be seen as the technical superstar in the movie as he had the expertise and knowledge to manipulate and control the matrix as he saw fit. If you have a highly experienced group of IT experts on your staff that can work with the systems to correct any problems or issues, then onsite support may be ideal for your company. But, if you are lacking the superuser like Neo then maybe cloud support will be best where all IT support will be provided by the host.

Immediate world wide access

The matrix presents challenges to the users that aren't plugged in to the main computer. In order to access the matrix, the users must go up towards the surface of the earth within range of the construct computers and interface with the matrix wirelessly. This presents challenges with connectivity and the chances to disconnect from the matrix with dire consequences and lives being lost. When your software is supported in a cloud environment, then you are at the mercy of the internet connection and bandwidth limitations of the server. Onsite support gives you access at any time and will allow you to more quickly access and work with large files within the safety and convenience of your internal networks.

Choosing the best software support solution is a strategic problem that we all face so it is important to consider all the factors involved in the decision before you make a decision that will have long term implications for your company. Look at your needs and understand what your software solution needs to do so that when you develop a strategy it will consider all the needs of your company and then make the choice between cloud or onsite software support that fits your company's strategy and needs. Consider your options carefully and as Morpheus told Neo when he was making his choice "Remember, all I'm offering is the truth, nothing more".


2 comments; last comment on 01/17/2015
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Virtual Assistant Re-ups

Posted February 07, 2014 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

No, it's not Clippy - Microsoft's infamous virtual assistant, now retired - that will help the U.S. military do its duty. This virtual assistant, which can 'learn in the wild' will be sorting and prioritizing e-mails, scheduling meetings, and similar bureaucratic tasks. The $150 million DARPA-funded project that began as CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes) in 2003 just ended in July. For additional information, read this CALO overview.

Editor's Note: This news brief was brought to you by the Solutions for Industrial Computing News eNewsletter. Subscribe today to have content like this delivered to your inbox.

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Smart Energy Apps Move to ZigBee

Posted September 22, 2011 10:00 AM by embeddedreporter

Operating in the 2.4 GHz frequency that can be used almost anywhere, the ZigBee wireless protocol provides a low-cost, low-power mesh network ideal for green and global embedded applications such as smart energy and smart home initiatives.

Dr. Oyvind Strom, Senior Director of Wireless Microcontrollers at Atmel Corporation recently answered questions from Embedded Computing Design about ZigBee specifications and implementation requirements for ensuring device interoperability.

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