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Interview: Former L0pht hacker and current Grand Idea Studio owner Joe Grand

Known as a hardware security wizard, Grand is now a sought-after trainer and one of the hosts of a new show on Discovery Channel called Prototype This! about building unusual projects on a tight budget and schedule.

Former L0pht hacker and current Grand Idea Studio owner Joe Grand has carved out a unique niche for himself. Known as a hardware security wizard, Grand is now a sought-after trainer and one of the hosts of a new show on Discovery Channel called Prototype This! about building unusual projects on a tight budget and schedule.

Joe Grand

So how did you get involved in the show?
I got involved in it pretty much through word of mouth. I'm on the technical advisory board for Make magazine, which is like a do-it-yourself magazine. They contacted me and said, there's this new TV show, they're looking for an electronics guy, are you interested? It sounded sort of interesting. I get to do what I like doing, which is prototyping and electronics, and I get to do it on TV, so it sounds like a win-win to me.

So what are the projects you guys are working on right now?
The one that we're almost done with is two builds, which is rare, but it's for a firefighter technology show. One of them is this thing that we're calling the stairbot, which is essentially this motorized vehicle that will enable a firefighter to haul a lot of gear upstairs, up a high-rise building very quickly. They can just have this machine and it will follow them up the stairs and they have all the gear and they're ready to fight the fire without being tired.

And the second part of the build, which is my favorite part, is something we're calling the pyropack. And that's essentially this high-tech firefighter pack that carries the standard things like oxygen and their oxygen gauge, but then we're implementing all sorts of high-tech features to it. We have a heads-up display that the firefighter will mount to their head.

Is there any chance that the stuff you guys are building is going to see the light of day as actual products?
It might. One of the great things about the show is that we are doing things that have never been done before and some of them we might just do because they're fun, such as giant boxing robots that move off of the movements of players outside the ring.

What are your thoughts on the security models of some of these em-bedded devices that are really sophisticated these days?
Any hardware product out there can be broken, and a lot of times it can be broken easier than a software application. And the problem with that is that hardware engineers aren't trained to be familiar with security. Their main goal is to get the product out to market and the companies say, OK, we'll get the product out and if there is a problem we'll patch it. Or they just ignore it and bear the risk. Hardware security is still expensive. A lot of companies don't want to pay all that money to try to protect every product if the risk of attack is so low.

Download the full interview with Joe Grand at searchsecurity.com/podcast.

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