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Hardware Hacking China Data Storage It's funny.  Laugh. Build Hardware

Magical Chinese Hard Drive 347

Posted by Soulskill
from the finally-a-use-for-old-flash-drives dept.
jamax writes "From TFA: 'A Russian friend .... works at a hard-drive repair center in a Russian town, located near the Chinese border. A couple of days ago a customer brought a broken 500GB USB-drive that he had bought in a Chinese store across the river, for an insanely low price. But the drive was not working: if you, say, save a movie onto the drive, playing the saved movie back resulted in replaying just the last 5 minutes of the film.' Apparently, the contents of the external HDD box included: two nuts, glued to the inner surface of the box with a 128MB flash drive wedged between them (image). And it was a clever hack, too — if ever an attempt was made to write a file that's too large, it got cycled — rewriting itself over and over from the beginning, while leaving the existing files intact. And it reported everything correctly — file sizes and all!"
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Magical Chinese Hard Drive

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  • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Friday April 08, 2011 @01:42PM (#35760366)

    "Ancient Chinese Secret"

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Huh.

      • by severoon (536737)
        This is actually a pretty great invention if you have a lot of non-critical data to store.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by harrkev (623093)

          Reminds me of the old joke "write only memory." Pretty funny for the hardware types.

          Datasheet available HERE. [national.com].

          On a side note, I do now know if this link will be available long-term since TI purchased National Semi.

    • Someone bought an uber ThinkPad running WinXP with 2GB RAM and 160GB HD (keep in mind this was mid 2000s) only to find out that it was a cleverly disguised box running Win98 with 64MB RAM and 40GB HD. There was enough alterations done to the Windows UI to indicate it was intentional deception.

      The lesson to be learn (and always kept in mind) "If it sounds too good to be true, it can't be true."

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      "Ancient Chinese Secret"

      And years ago we had the Counterfeit Capacitor Caper .. where a 1000uf cap might actually have a 100uf cap sitting inside a larger shell, soldered to the leads inside.

      Back when I collected chinese coins I was amazed by the ingenuity and energy put into making fakes, not just recently, but 200 years ago.

      Some things never change. Buyer beware especially where labor is cheap and some useful materials may be available (assuming those drive cases where extras and thought disposed of.)/p)

    • by DJLuc1d (1010987)
      "Me quick, want slow.... No wait, that's indian"
  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Friday April 08, 2011 @01:48PM (#35760452) Homepage

    I've sent about a terabyte of critically important data to a special compression device my computer came with, called "/dev/null", and it still hasn't filled up.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday April 08, 2011 @02:08PM (#35760800) Journal
      I find that saving data is a waste of time.

      All the files I've ever created, along with all the files anyone else has created, along with all the files of finite length that nobody has ever created, are waiting right there for you in /dev/random.

      Latency is a bit unpredictable, though.
      • by gstoddart (321705)

        All the files I've ever created, along with all the files anyone else has created, along with all the files of finite length that nobody has ever created, are waiting right there for you in /dev/random.

        Yeah, but I can never find the one I'm looking for, so it's not a very good system.

        I can't wait another 50,000 years ... I need my TPS report now.

        • by isorox (205688)

          All the files I've ever created, along with all the files anyone else has created, along with all the files of finite length that nobody has ever created, are waiting right there for you in /dev/random.

          Yeah, but I can never find the one I'm looking for, so it's not a very good system.

          I can't wait another 50,000 years ... I need my TPS report now.

          Ahh, I'm creating an index /dev/random, when it's finished it'll be blindingly fast

      • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday April 08, 2011 @02:18PM (#35760948)

        I switched to /dev/random after finding it was quite a lot cheaper than feeding and cleaning up after the infinite number of monkeys I used to use.

      • by Culture20 (968837)
        I switched from /dev/random to /dev/urandom because I have to wiggle my mouse less often.
      • If /dev/random is web scale, then I will use /dev/random
  • by mldi (1598123) on Friday April 08, 2011 @01:48PM (#35760456)
    This actually made me LOL. I guess there's a sucker born every minute. Pretty clever hack!
  • Bloody well done. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    That is fucking magical. I dont support this rip off, but DAMN that was a cool idea and well pulled off. This was not some back town hick, but a well thought out plan, using parts brought/found locally.

    Bravo engineer/shop keep who made it!!!
    • Re:Bloody well done. (Score:5, Informative)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday April 08, 2011 @01:59PM (#35760650) Journal
      I haven't seen the principle applied to faking an HDD before; but the same phenomenon crops up fairly frequently with USB flash drives and flash memory cards sourced from suspiciously cheap ebay sellers and similar places.

      The cruder examples are simply a low-capacity drive, with a high capacity label, and a specially doctored partition table and fat32 filesystem written to them. Simply reformatting them will reveal their true size and make them safely usable(to the degree that you would trust the quality of such a device...).

      The more sophisticated ones have doctored firmware in the chip that handles abstracting the raw flash into a USB mass storage device, and the OS will detect their false size. You can only determine the true size empirically: exactly what behavior the fake blocks will exhibit varies(all zeros, all ones, garbage); but the real blocks will behave normally. If you are a gambling sort, you can put a partition of exactly that size on the drive and hope for the best; but that isn't really advisable...

      Every abstraction layer is a potential lie, I suppose.
      • Re:Bloody well done. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MonsterTrimble (1205334) <monstertrimble@[ ... m ['hot' in gap]> on Friday April 08, 2011 @02:38PM (#35761192)

        The same goes for MP3 players which use Flash as well.

        My wife was caught by that scam on eBay. About 4 or 5 years ago she bought what was reportedly a 4 GB MP3 player from Hong Kong - no name brand, but it was a good price. (At this point I would like to point out I did council her on not buying anything electronic from Hong Kong. The horror stories about cheap products from that part of the world plus it being far too cheap against anything from north America made me suspicious). After a couple weeks she complains it messed up. So I dutifully wipe it using the disc which came with the player and reloaded on everything she put on previously. Suddenly I get an error message that the player is full when I had put no where near the 4 GB limit on it yet. So before I try again I take the model number and punch it into Google (although it might have been metacrawler back then). The first link which popped up was about this model having the exact same issue I was having. it turns out that the seller was taking 1 GB drives, changing the firmware to read 4 GB and selling them as such. The kicker was that the supplied format disc just rehacked the MP3 player instead of doing it right. I ended up downloading a correct recovery disc for it which did in fact reveal the 1 GB limit. She complained, but being eBay, they did nothing. In the end she bought a 4 GB Sansa and it serves as my daily distraction from my commute. (Note: I did load Rockbox onto it because the Sansa OS is terrible and can't be happier.)

      • Re:Bloody well done. (Score:5, Informative)

        by eulernet (1132389) on Friday April 08, 2011 @06:55PM (#35763946)

        I got 2 different keys of the latter sort (after format, it reports 32Gb, but they really are 4Gb).
        BTW, I don't use them, since I didn't find any way to only use the first 4Gb.

        There is no magic.
        When you write a byte at a given location (for example at 9Gb), it's written at this location modulo 4Gb (in my example at 1Gb), and there is a little protection for the first megabytes, so that the FAT32 is not overwritten when the key is full, to avoid revealing that the key is fake.

        When you buy an USB key, ALWAYS use CheckFlash:
        http://mikelab.kiev.ua/index_en.php?page=PROGRAMS/chkflsh_en [mikelab.kiev.ua]
        In a few minutes, it will tell you if your USB key is correct.

        With my first fake one, I get the first error:
        Error at address F5E56000h: expected "10101010", found "00000000".
        and everything after that is dead.

        With the second fake one, I get the errors:
        Error at address EF800000h: expected "10101010", found "00000000".
        Error at address EF82C000h: expected "10101010", found "00000000".
        Error at address EF928000h: expected "10101010", found "00000000".
        Error at address EFA24000h: expected "10101010", found "00000000".
        Error at address EFB20000h: expected "10101010", found "00000000".
        Error at address EFC1C000h: expected "10101010", found "00000000".
        Error at address EFD18000h: expected "10101010", found "00000000".
        Error at address EFE14000h: expected "10101010", found "00000000".
        Error at address EFF10000h: expected "10101010", found "00000000".
        Error at address F000C000h: expected "10101010", found "00000000".
        after that, the errors are more irregular.
        Note that the write speed is 5.7Mb/s for the first 4Gb of the key, and 25Mb/s after that.

      • by ShakaUVM (157947)

        >>I haven't seen the principle applied to faking an HDD before; but the same phenomenon crops up fairly frequently with USB flash drives and flash memory cards sourced from suspiciously cheap ebay sellers and similar places.

        I just bought a Hitachi 2TB hard drive (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822145473) which is supposed to have a 64MB cache (http://www.hitachigst.com/internal-drives/desktop/deskstar/deskstar-7k3000), which is why it's about $20 more expensive than their one wi

    • Wow - finding 128 MB Flash drives is pretty tough these days! He must have gotten some really cheap leftovers.

  • Data that goes in will never come back out again! Except the lucky 128MB that escapes the data event horizon.
  • by cfa22 (1594513) on Friday April 08, 2011 @01:51PM (#35760506)
    wow, something alongside a couple of nuts that's smaller than it's supposed to be.
  • Coming soon to Lenovo Thinkpad near you :-)

    * typing this on an IBM Thinkpad T43

  • MP3 players, too. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by olsmeister (1488789) on Friday April 08, 2011 @01:53PM (#35760548)
    I have a friend that ordered a dirt cheap 4 gig MP3 player from some outfit in Hong Kong. He got it, and plugged it in, and it dutifully reported it had 4 gig of free space. As he started loading it up, it kept locking everything up after about 2 gig. Turns out, it only had 2 gig of memory, but was doctored to report it had 4 when queried.
    • I got this too but I got eBay to ban the seller and paypal to refund me using pictures and data sheet of the offending chips, sadly he came back the day after under another name.

      • by Machtyn (759119) on Friday April 08, 2011 @02:15PM (#35760910) Homepage Journal
        As a buyer on eBay, I've been screwed. As a seller on eBay I've been raped. I no longer use eBay.
        • Likewise... I'd love to hear of any alternative though. I have a pile of crap to sell, and Ebay makes it so painful that I've not bothered to do it for months!

          Any good alternative that is used in Europe and UK as well?

          • by lewiscr (3314)

            I stopped trying to sell it, now I donate it to a charity. In the states, charity donations are tax deduction for the current value. I net somewhat less than I would've sold it for, but with a lot less hassle.

            It has a hidden bonus too. Usually when I sell crap on eBay, I see crap on eBay that I want to buy with my new found riches. When I donate to a charity, I don't recognize the proceeds until I do my taxes, and that gets deposited into a savings account. So overall, I end up with more money and less

            • by lewiscr (3314)
              Sorry, I should clarify that donations to charity are a tax deduction under certain circumstances. I happen to qualify, but not everyone does.
              • by dgatwood (11270)

                I'm assuming what you mean by "under certain circumstances" is that you have to itemize, which means it's only worth doing if you already have enough deductions to exceed the standard deduction.

          • by guspasho (941623)

            Craigslist. It has its drawbacks but it's dead simple.

          • Likewise... I'd love to hear of any alternative though. I have a pile of crap to sell, and Ebay makes it so painful that I've not bothered to do it for months!

            Any good alternative that is used in Europe and UK as well?

            UK - Gumtree*

            *Owned by eBay :(

  • ATP (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blair1q (305137) on Friday April 08, 2011 @01:54PM (#35760556) Journal

    This is reason 1 why your average corporation has a mini-corporation inside it that does nothing but accept packages and perform testing on their contents to be sure that requirements are being met. Doesn't matter if it's a blade server or a box of pencils. Sleaze is an industry. So is acceptance testing. But if you do it right it doesn't just prevent fraud, it increases your reliability a ton, as it keeps you from stuffing parts that are merely statistical DOA.

    (Reason 2 is that without that layer, there's no tracking of who got what, and embezzlement is an industry too.)

    • by Svartalf (2997)

      Heh... No kidding there. (Esp. the Embezzlement part.)

    • well said

    • Re:ATP (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday April 08, 2011 @02:13PM (#35760878)

      Also the reason why corporations are reluctant to switch suppliers and don't do lowest-price shopping as much as you might think they should.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        If they're government contractors they are required to shop around. If they don't they can go to jail (yes, jail, just for buying the more expensive of two acceptable parts). They're not required to buy garbage, though. And really, if I was paying a purchasing department and they weren't continually improving my cost basis, I'd be pissed off. So if there's anyone not shopping around it's because management isn't doing its job.

      • Re:ATP (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MonsterTrimble (1205334) <monstertrimble@[ ... m ['hot' in gap]> on Friday April 08, 2011 @05:19PM (#35763162)

        I wish I hadn't commented earlier because I have mod points and you would definitely get one from me.

        A large portion of purchasing is the trust aspect. Most of my job is Continuous Improvement and Quality Assurance. I work with new and existing vendors constantly trying to improve our products profitability and believe me the last thing you want is a flaky vendor who will not stand behind their product. A good example I have is a label vendor we had formerly used. Two years ago we decided to revamp the look of one of our lines of hand tools and chose to use a vendor we had been using for over a decade with no real problems due to their price and the performance of their sample labels in our application during testing. Almost immediately after receiving the first batch the labels began to fall off our products. Their first excuse was that during testing the tools we tested on had a different diameter handle then what production had. That was true, but subsequent testing showed the labels coming off irregardless or diameter. Next they blamed the finish, stating that it must have changed - it hadn't. And so on and so forth. Finally this past winter they said they would no longer accept any complaints about their labels nor would reimburse us for failing to adhere. In the meantime this is going on the salesperson for the vendor would directly contact the marketing department over these and other projects after being told expressly numerous times not to do so. they would also constantly be late with deliveries and any promises they gave could not be taken seriously. In the end we decided to pull all of the labels they produced for us from them. Even if they provided the labels for free the amount of time spent dealing with them and their performance did not make it worth while.

        In the end, it's about total cost. Not just the actual price of the product but customer service and time spent dealing with issues as they arise is a huge factor. It reminds me of an old saying which has been attributed to John Ruskin [wikiquote.org]: "It's unwise to pay too much, but it's worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money — that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do."

  • data recorder (Score:4, Informative)

    by mugnyte (203225) on Friday April 08, 2011 @02:03PM (#35760700) Journal

    These devices aren't even made specifically for this hack. These are common data recorders for weather stations, EDR's for autos, etc. The genius here was probably more in the acquisition of the case and label.

    • by mugnyte (203225)

      See Data Logger [wikipedia.org]

    • by Jonner (189691)

      I don't think the device described by the article could be a data logger. What it describes is something that looks like a 500 GiB USB mass storage device. To be able to put a file on it, there would have to be a file system (probably FAT32).

      The design of the device would have to take into account how the file system is structured to avoid completely destroying its structure whenever an addressing wraparound occurred. The interesting question is whether the device actually understands the structure of the f

  • by EkriirkE (1075937) on Friday April 08, 2011 @02:03PM (#35760702) Homepage
    I bought a 2GB micro SD off ebay for cheap, received it and it reported the size correctly, except when it got past 32MB (yes megabytes) i got IO errors. Turns out, the FAT table was written as 2GB on a 32MB card. Writing zeroes then reformatting revealed only 32MB partition onward.
    • And that's why I will always buy new from an actual store rather than buy someone's used crap off of ebay.

      • by meloneg (101248)

        Actually, I expect that used crap on eBay is more reliable than new crap on eBay. The bulk scammers are usually very eager to stress how this is a new, unopened, brand-name product.

        • In complete agreement. As someone who sells/trades on eBay for obscure parts, so long as you're dealing with individuals, you're fine. When you start dealing with eBay companies that are selling NIB stuff is when you start getting junk.

          That said, I would never buy HDs off of eBay.

  • Samsung generally doesn't have obvious typos on the front face of its products, eg. "Compiant" instead of compliant , "fie fon" ???, and of course it is hard for an external drive to be USB, SATA, and PATA all at once...especially since it obviously doesn't have SATA or PATA connectors. The last one MIGHT have been excusable since they COULD be referencing the drive itself instead of the device as a whole, but I can't imagine them doing that.

  • Not terribly funny. A little clever. Simple fraud is the most accurate.

    Think of it in these terms - the "firmware" of these devices is like a financial statement created by Bernie Madoff. The "storage area" is the actual wealth reported on the paperwork.

    Why is "fake storage" fraud any funnier than financial fraud. Hey, how about a "funny" story about some discount pharmaceuticals?
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Not terribly funny. A little clever. Simple fraud is the most accurate.

      Think of it in these terms - the "firmware" of these devices is like a financial statement created by Bernie Madoff. The "storage area" is the actual wealth reported on the paperwork.

      Why is "fake storage" fraud any funnier than financial fraud. Hey, how about a "funny" story about some discount pharmaceuticals?

      It's funny because it's happening in China and China is about as capitalist as a country can get, despite the title, it is expected. Further, the ingenuity of people in China to fake things like this is quite impressive. Bernie Madoff only intended to do his scam on a small scale, problem was, Wall Street was so impressed and sent so many rich suckers his way he couldn't say 'No!' and it grew beyond his wildest dreams (why he never planned an escape hatch is beyond me, but who says criminals are smart or

    • by Jonner (189691)

      It's funny how many people are suckered by something like this. Unlike Madoff's scheme or fake pharmaceuticals, this doesn't have the potential to cause great bodily or financial harm.

  • by jurgen (14843) on Friday April 08, 2011 @02:08PM (#35760810)

    You've heard of WORM (write once read many), now we have WARN (write
    always, read never).

    :j

  • Good to know. I'll be sure to double-check my storage in future, before I trust any of my data to it.

    Interestingly, the standard read/write tests won't identify this as a fraud, because they read back the data just after they've written it. You'd need something more like,

    1. Seed random number generator with X
    2. Write pseudorandom sequence to fill drive
    3. Reseed random number generator with X
    4. Read back file, comparing against simultaneously-generated values

    That'll catch this sort of thing.

  • Are those the customer's nuts inside?

  • This is really just the logical continuation of our throw-away consume society. Yes, the shop that made this "drive" is committing fraud, but it's just a small step further than most consumer products made by big companies today. Like DVD players that come with firmware that's so buggy that they basically don't work (like one Sony model I bought some years ago) or cellphones that crash 20% of the time when a call comes in (like all 4 of the Nokia 1616s I recently bought).

    More and more the products we buy

    • More power to them. If something is too good to be true, it probably is. The vast majority of fraud and scams are where the victim thought he was going to be getting an awesome deal and its their own greed that traps them.
    • by dgatwood (11270) on Friday April 08, 2011 @03:28PM (#35761780) Journal

      ...it's just a small step further than most consumer products made by big companies today.

      Agreed. I just went down a list of the products I've bought in the past year, and if you ignore DVDs and books, the percentage that have worked correctly for more than a week is somewhere around zero.

      USB flash drive watch (ThinkGeek): broke after four days. When the replacement arrived, the flash drive was halfway pulled apart, the glue that held it together having apparently failed. This tells me that it probably failed QA testing (somebody had to have tried to open it or else it would not have been hanging halfway out), but got shipped to me in spite of that. Yikes.

      USB keychain drive from Kingston: the part that held it on my keychain broke after four or five months. Replacement drive with substantially inferior case: the part that held it on my keychain broke after four days.

      USB keychain drive from Lacie (XtremKey): the wire part that held it onto my keychain broke after less than a week, and has subsequently been replaced by a hand-crimped steel cord from Home Depot. Details in my Amazon review.

      Konica Minolta color laser printer: needs a technician to recalibrate it right out of the box because the fuser isn't fusing properly on card stock.

      Eyeglasses arrived from the manufacturer with a scratch across the middle of one lens.

      Bought complete series DVD collections for Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. Went through seven SG-1 sets in a row. Ended up taking advantage of Amazon shipping out replacements before you return the product so that I could combine four different sets just to get one single set without any unreadable discs. The discs in the factory-sealed package looked like they had been placed in gravel and spun rapidly. Pics [gatwood.net] or it didn't happen. Then, I had the same problem with the Stargate Atlantis series collection, but I only had to combine two or three sets to get one working set.

      And the list goes on. So yeah, I hear you. The only difference between the Chinese knock offs and the worst American products are that the worst American products at least ostensibly work for a couple of days before they don't. Usually. And this is what happens when consumers don't care about product quality.

  • It dont see a scam here, the USB stick was just set to write-only!

  • Off-brand MP3 players do this, too.
    The "manufacturer" puts in a memory module of 1/2 or 1/5 the size it says on the box and they disable "media full" errors which results in the looping effect that the drive in the article had.

  • I got my hands on a 64GB "Sony" flash drive given to me by a student who bought it on e-bay and kept losing data on it. Since the largest drive I had ever seen was 16GB at the time, I was curious how a 64GB just popped out of the woodwork. Turns out, the maximum capacity was 128MB, however, the file system reported 64GB on Windows, Mac OS and Linux.

    When writing data to the drive, Windows would allow the drive to loop and continually overwrite itself while the Mac OS and Linux boxes would hit the 128MB lim

  • This would be way to easy to spot if you pick it up when is powered up. Unless it's being sold as a SSD, there will be a noticeable gyroscopic effect when you pick up the drive and change the angle you are holding it in relation to the floor. At the end of TFA it even states that the salesman saved data to the drive. I'm sorry, but anyone who would not notice this when testing it at the store deserves to be ripped off.

  • by jenningsthecat (1525947) on Friday April 08, 2011 @03:48PM (#35762028)

    ...an hour later, you're always hungry again!

  • by benjfowler (239527) on Friday April 08, 2011 @05:26PM (#35763228)

    compulsive liars, cheats and thieves who will do absolutely anything to win. And it's ingrained behaviour that will never change. Even 200 years ago, British traders knew very well that the Chinese simply couldn't be trusted.

    Which is why when the West declines and the Chinese rule the world, we're all fucked.

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Friday April 08, 2011 @07:33PM (#35764172) Homepage Journal
    My room mate had a hard drive go bad on her in a matter that sounds similar. She was going to format over the drive, but had trouble doing so. First I heard about it, some friends she'd brought in to help her with it thought I was some sort of super-hacker because no matter what they did they couldn't format the drive. So I go check it out and it would allow me to format it and write files to it, and some files would even show up, but as soon as we rebooted the drive was right back to the way it was. After a good bit of troubleshooting I determined that there was something wrong with the write head electronics, and that what we were seeing was actually the drive's internal cache being updated. But it never could actually write the changes we were trying to make to disk. The read heads were fine, so whatever was on the drive was essentially carved-in-stone, except that the drive thought you could still change it and would pretend it was doing so.

    It sounds like this device was acting as a big cache for a much larger non-existent space.

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.

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