Hardware Hacking with Microcontrollers: A Panel Discussion

Presented at DEF CON 21 (2013), Aug. 3, 2013, 2 p.m. (45 minutes)

Microcontrollers and embedded systems come in many shapes, sizes and flavors. From tiny 6-pin devices with only a few bytes of RAM (ala the DEF CON 14 Badge) to 32- bit, eight core multiprocessor systems (ala DEF CON 20 Badge), each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Engineers and designers tend to have their favorites, but how do they decide what part to work with? Join DEFCON Badge designers Joe Grand and LoSTBoY, master of embedded system design FirmWarez, devoted electronics hobbyist Smitty, and moderator extraordinaire RenderMan as they argue the virtues of their favorite microcontrollers and answer questions about hardware hacking. If you're just getting started with electronics and are trying to navigate the sea of available microcontrollers, microprocessors, and modules, this panel is for you.


  • Joe Grand / Kingpin as Joe Grand
    Joe Grand (@joegrand) is an electrical engineer and hardware hacker. He runs Grand Idea Studio (www.grandideastudio.com) and specializes in the design of consumer and hobbyist embedded systems. He created the electronic badges for DEFCON 14 through 18 and was a co-host of Discovery Channel's Prototype This. Back in the day when he was known as Kingpin, he was a member of the infamous hacker group L0pht Heavy Industries.
  • FirmWarez
    FirmWarez (@FirmWarez) is an embedded systems engineer with twenty years experience developing microcontroller based devices ranging from toys to military hardware. Having gone the MBA route to collect such titles as 'Director of Engineering' and 'VP of Engineering', he still stays directly active in designing and building electronics for fun and profit. Currently involved in a couple of start-ups as well as freelance jobs, he works from an obfuscated lab in a barn somewhere deep in flyover country.
  • Brad Haines / RenderMan as RenderMan
    RenderMan (@ihackedwhat) is a white hat by trade, blackhat by fashion. He spends his days fixing stuff that other people break and evenings finding new ways to break stuff once people fix it. A frequent speaker at conferences around the world, he tries to make the world a better place by educating people about security and the hacker ethic and stuffing random electronics into stuffed toys to make them creepier than ever imagined.
  • LosT
    LosT (@1o57) With a background in mathematics and robotics LosT spends his free time between calculating how to take over the world and building the robots to accomplish it. Deciding to teach others how to create robot overlords, he created the Hardware Hacking Village for the DEF CON community with Russ in an effort to get more people involved with hardware. Fearing competition LosT devised the Mystery Challenge to confuse and confound those who would rise up against him- eventually becoming the creator of the badges to that same end. Really he just wants to juggle and read books these days, or watch MST3K with Tom.
  • Mark 'Smitty' Smith
    Mark 'Smitty' Smith (@SmittyHalibut) is a network engineer and system administrator by day, relentless maker by night. (And by the weekend.) Electronics and computers have been a hobby of his since childhood with his first 50-In-1 and a TRS-80 at the age of 6. (And by lunch hour.) Microcontrollers have been a part of his repertoire since the 8051 in the mid 90s. His recent experience includes: Arduino, native Atmel, Propeller and BASIC Stamp. He is currently spending most of his Maker energies in the analog domain on Audiophile Electronics. (And by coffee break. In fact, it's safe to say he's always involved in some project or other.)
  • Panel