Device Hacks: Stop them Like a Pro

How To Stop Device Hacks

When “Sticky Rice” decided to send the first sushi rolls into space, they needed to make some modifications to a weather balloon to make it possible. First, they needed a payload arm to hold their sushi plate, and a small camera (they used a GoPro).

In addition, they needed GPS units to be able to track the delivery of their payload to recover their camera. Lastly, they needed to make sure their equipment was capable of interfacing with a PC, whereby they could pull the footage from the camera and review data from the launch.

There was a lot of hardware necessary to make the launch a success. Before you assemble your device, you have to consider the safety and security of the data and electronic components you’re using to operate it. Here are some tips on how to protect your hardware.

Restrict Access

Any good programmer knows that it’s easier to restrict permissions than it is to develop a profile for every user. Try to come up with a bare minimum set of requirements for what you need to be able to do with your hardware.

You might need to access data or use the software on the device to complete an action. Don’t leave the door open for vulnerabilities with complicated multi-tasking. Create the hardware with one purpose in mind and restrict access to all other operations.

In Linux, you can create a pseudo user with restricted privileges. This is useful for applications that are greedy and want access to parts of your device that seem irrelevant to their function. A pseudo-user lets you create a profile of sorts that is built specifically for the operations you need and nothing more.

Signals and Operation

In most cases of hardware, it’s best if you restrict access to certain functions so that the user can focus on what the device is primarily used for. We see this dynamic in play in office settings, where the IT department will restrict public access to operations like printing or CD burning. If you’re designing an RC car, for instance, the receiver should be able to receive signals from one specific frequency at a time. This cuts down on interference and ensures the device is operable only by the user.


Tracking was very important to the launch of Sticky Rice’s sushi plate. Tracking allows you to not only spot a device but to identify it electronically. We sometimes see manufacturers use RFID chips, for instance, to tag a device as it journeys through an assembly line.

This helps the production managers track the development of the device as it travels through the assembly. GPS units are more mainstream, but they track only physical location. It’s up to you to determine what you need to track, and what will be most useful to you.

Other Tips

How your computer interacts with the device is also important. Viruses are passed via third-party devices all the time. That’s part of how STUXNET was able to spread so widely–engineers would bring infected flash drives from home into work.

You should have a few options for virus protection, so you can try different programs to see what catches infections most efficiently. Thoroughly check your computer, and set a schedule so that virus checks are done automatically.

Also, consider restricting access to your computer; the data stored from your devices could be just as vulnerable as the device itself.

Final Thoughts

Most simple hardware devices won’t need to worry about serious hacking, and sometimes hacking is what makes hardware fun. Still, there are certain situations where a hack or a malfunction can leave your device incapable of recovery. Create a backup for your data, and acquire insurance for expensive devices that are difficult to replace.

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