Hacking a Single Radio System to Work With Wi-Fi, 3G and Bluetooth

Zap-happy channel-surfers could soon control a lot more than cable TV from their remotes. Michael Ossmann, co-founder of Great Scott Gadgets, is developing HackRF, a software-defined radio (SDR) that lets you switch between radio frequencies on the fly.

Most wireless gadgets, like the 3G antenna in a phone, operate using a fixed radio frequency band. But. HackRF could potentially receive and transmit any radio frequency from 100 megahertz to 6 gigahertz - a range that includes broadcast and amateur radio, GSM, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and remote garage-door openers. Ossmann presented the device at ToorCon in San Diego, California, last weekend.

There are other SDRs out there, but HackRF is intended to hit the sweet spot between versatility and cost - around the size of a USB hard drive and with a $300 price tag, the device could sit squarely in the consumer electronics bracket. Ossmann suggests SDR technology will bring about a revolution in the radio communications industry similar to the one that digital audio brought to the music industry.

For now, HackRF remains a work-in-progress and isn't yet being pitched at the mainstream market. "HackRF is designed to meet the needs of wireless communication security professionals, researchers and hobbyists," says Ossmann. "It is for hackers, in the widest sense of the term."

Early applications range from identifying vulnerabilities in proprietary wireless control systems to listening in on police radio. Indeed, wireless security protocols that rely on obscure frequencies could be in danger. US military research instituation DARPA was interested enough to invest $200,000 in Ossmann's use of HackRF for research into wireless communication security.

But since the project is open source, hackers and researchers are free to take the device where they like. Ossmann thinks people will come up with uses he hasn't yet thought of.


Hacking a Single Radio System to Work With Wi-Fi, 3G and BluetoothNew Scientist reports, explores and interprets the results of human endeavour set in the context of society and culture, providing comprehensive coverage of science and technology news.