In 1993, the video game developers at id Software released Doom, a first-person shooter that placed a nameless protagonist into the fiery depths of hell, equipped with an arsenal of weapons to mow down imps, demons, lost souls, and the intimidating “Barons of Hell.”
In 2022, the hacker Sick Codes installed a modified version of Doom on the smart control panel of a John Deere tractor, with the video game’s nameless protagonist this time mowing down something entirely more apt for the situation: Corn.
At DEFCON 30, Sick Codes presented his work to an audience of onlookers at the conference’s main stage. His efforts to run the modified version of Doom, which are discussed in today’s episode of Lock and Code with host David Ruiz, are not just good for a laugh, though. For one specific community, the work represents a possible, important step forward in their own fight—the fight for the “right to repair.”
“Right to Repair” enthusiasts want to be able to easily repair the things they own. It sounds like a simple ask, but when’s the last time you repaired your own iPhone? When’s the last time you were even able to replace the battery yourself on your smartphone?
The right to repair your equipment, without intervention from an authorized dealer, is hugely important to some farmers. If their tractor breaks down because of a software issue, they don’t want to wait around for someone to have to physically visit their site to fix it. They want to be able to fix it then and there and get on with their work.
So, when a hacker shows off that he was able to do something that wasn’t thought possible on a device that can be notoriously difficult to self-repair, it garners attention.
Today, we speak with Sick Codes about his most recent work on a John Deere tractor, and how his work represents a follow-up to what he a group of researchers showed last year, when he revealed how he was able to glean an enormous amount of information about John Deere smart tractor owners from John Deere’s data operations center. This time around, as Sick Codes explained, the work was less about tinkering around on a laptop and more about getting phsyical with a few control panels that he found online.
“It’s kind of like surgery but for metallic objects, if that makes sense. Non-organic material.”
Tune in today to listen to Sick Codes discuss his work, why he did what he did, and how John Deere has reacted to his research.
Show notes and credits:
Intro Music: “Spellbound” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
Outro Music: “Good God” by Wowa (unminus.com)