You probably don't remember a TV series that aired on NBC in the mid 60s called Flipper. It actually stopped broadcasting before I was even born, but I do recall reruns involving criminal schemes foiled by an uncannily smart bottle-nosed dolphin named Flipper. Well, Flipper is back but in an entirely new way and for an entirely new generation.
Flipper Zero has no shortage of wireless inputs and outputs
Kickstarter sensation Flipper Zero is described as "a cyber dolphin who really loves to hack" but is actually an open source multi-tool device that was designed for hacking and pen testing research. With an original goal of raising $60,000, this unassuming little device has managed to raise over 80 times that amount and attract over 37,000 backers in the process, but this success story is no accident. This little device has been around since early 2021 and currently sells for about $250 on Amazon for good reason. Amidst a cornucopia of connectivity options and features, the standout ones for this wireless expert is its RFID emulator, NFC, Bluetooth LE, and digital access key cloning.
Many of Flipper Zero's features blur the line between legal and illegal hacking, but anyone from my generation (the same ones who might've watched Flipper reruns on TV) remembers that hacking used to mean more than just breaking the law in the pursuit of money, IP theft, or just fame in your local hacker community. Hacking used to be an expression of curiosity and learning.
As a teenager, I hacked my way into bulletin boards, cracked games, and then proceeded to trade those wares with other hackers. I was part of a community and, more importantly, part of a philosophy that espouses the pursuit of simply learning how things work by taking them apart and voiding the warranty or just defying authority. Were we breaking the law? Perhaps the letter of the law but never the spirit. In any case, the only profiteering made was in the form of knowledge.
Flipper Zero has a lot going for it, including an attitude from its creators that prioritizes real world discovery over more academic means, and that is what has got me so excited. When you put this many hacking kits into the hands of curious kids, you are destined to create an army of future cybersecurity experts. Unfortunately, you are also asking to be spoofed and ripped off. It took me a while to find the real @flipper_zero on Twitter no thanks to the many scammers also on Twitter (some even verified by Twitter) with similar handles. Always beware of successful enterprises because they undoubtedly spawn copycats with no good intentions. But I urge hackers of all skill levels to follow @flipper_zero just to see how many amazing projects their followers have launched using this open source tool. From seasoned security experts to kids getting their first taste of spoofing, Flipper Zero is a hacking tool for all.
Vincent unlocks his school's card reader using Flipper Zero
Recently, my 15-year-old teenage son, Noah, mentioned that a friend of his, Vincent, had some questions for me knowing that I work in the field of cybersecurity. He had managed to snag a Flipper Zero and had already made some great strides in his own hacking exploits. In fact, Vincent sent me a video of him cloning an RFID tag in order to open the security door to his high school. This was not some kind of hacker brag to gain credibility with his gang of cohorts because this was all done with his school's permission, but the way Vincent talked about his passion for computers, pen testing, and programming, you would think he was a burgeoning cybersecurity expert who loved his career.
Maybe Vincent will go on to make the world a little bit safer from cybercriminals, or maybe he will just get all this hacking out of his system now while he is still young and eventually go on to land a more respectable job. I'm half joking here because I still remember the look my father gave me 40 years ago when I would tell him that my younger brother and I used our 300 BAUD acoustic MODEM to exchange computer generated images and games with strangers. Hacking wasn't a respectable ambition back then, but a lot has changed since I was a kid—or has it?
Too many people condemn hackers before learning the whole story thanks in part to the same popular cultural icons and media stigma that brought them to hacking in the first place. Humans are curious by nature, especially younger ones that haven't lived long enough to understand the consequences of their actions. There are plenty of white hats (hackers that ethically hack) and grey hats (hackers that sometimes violate ethics and laws), but we rarely hear about them. I want to hear more stories about those hackers.
Flipper Zero's got the attributes to back up the attitude
The good news is that kids and young adults are naturally drawn to technology that facilitates communications, puzzle solving, and thinking outside of the box. Flipper Zero encourages all of these things and more. It is by no means a child's toy, just as it is not marketed as such. And yet, the fact that the snarky dolphin mascot that inhabits this hacking device appeals to a younger crowd fills me with a sense of hope at what the future of cybersecurity might look like a generation from now.