This is The Most Expensive Thing That I Have Repaired

That day, Professor told me to start learning about power side-channel attacks. Our lab has some ChipWhisperer lite kits, and I took one. I took the course and learned how to do CPA and DPA with invasive methods, which we need to connect physically to the victim chip to measure the power trace. I did that and success.

Now I want to try the non-invasive method, which does not need to do measurements physically. Instead, I can use probing the electromagnetic probe just above the victim chip. The problem is the ChipWhisperer lite has no probe connection, I have to solder the male probe connector to the board, and I don’t have that.

I went to the lab storage and found that there was one ChipWhisperer pro kit. It has a probe connector and also an LCD. Very cool, isn’t it? I took it to my desk and turn it on. It turned up well, the LCD showing the menu screen, and I guess it’s working with no problem. I left it turned on while keep watching the tutorial and trying to connect the probe. I don’t remember exactly how long I left it turned on, but I go back and forth from my desk to the lab storage a few times to set up the EM probe. After I finish setting up the probe to the chip and connecting it to the Chipwhisperer Pro module (CW1200), I try to turn it on. I suddenly realized that the module was connected to the power and computer USB, but the screen was completely DEAD. No sign of electricity, no LED’s. It’s just dead right there without me noticing it when.

I’m dead

I know I am in trouble because, if I remember correctly, this module price is no joke for a student that depends on a scholarship for a living. I checked the web pages and look at the price.

Almost three times my scholarship

I got silenced for a moment, asking myself, “Wait, is this a dream or real?”. I tried to wake up, but I was already awake. Then I try to remember, “Where did I go wrong?”. I check the power supply, the voltage, and the ampere. I check the USB. It’s all from the package. I checked my probe setup, and it’s all correct. I remember the instructor; Colin o Flynn said, “In theory, it is impossible to be bricked.”. Based on what he said, I felt like I did something terrible to a four thousand-dollar module.

I have to find a solution

I re-read all the instructions, the module, and the kits, maybe if there is something wrong or someone put other kit parts into this kit. But all I used was just from the kit, and I just turned it on and left it for maybe one hour without it doing anything.

Then I tried to search for a solution, of course, at google, not my lab friends cause they would only cause more panic than a solution. I found some GitHub discussions that said theirs was bricked. The console said connected but no LED, while in my case, the console does not detect anything connected. I thought mine was in worse condition.

I keep searching for a physical problem with ChipWhisperer, but I found nothing. Because I don’t think this is a firmware problem since I never did anything with this module, even touching the touchscreen. Also, there are no lights at all.

I got desperate, and all I can found is someone creating a guide to restore the firmware. But since his instruction was to open the device first, then I tried to follow it. Maybe I can find something broken inside the power connector.

Loosen the corner screw with a small allen wrench
Right side case done
Left side done
Oops, don’t follow me, it turns out opening just one side is enough 😅
Now slide to the side and you can see the inside of this four thousand dollar device

It’s alive!

In the instruction, He said that I needed to short the erase pin until the device was not detected by the Windows. Well, currently, it is already not detected at all in my system, so I skipped this part. But the device is still detected as a USB to Serial converter, so I install the WinUSB driver. After that, I tried to reinstall the firmware using Bossa, and Voila! It works, the LCD is turned on, and it comes back to life! The four thousand-dollar module comes back to life!

I know this might sound simple, but this is the most expensive thing that I have repaired. And I hope this can helps others with their dead ChipWhisperer kit to try to reinstall the firmware even if they look dead physically without any life signs. Thanks to the original firmware restore writer 🙂

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