Flipper Zero WiFi Devboard - Customize and compile firmware

Flipper Zero WiFi Devboard

Customize and compile firmware

Tomaso Vasella
by Tomaso Vasella
on November 09, 2023
time to read: 17 minutes

Keypoints

This is how the Flipper Zero WiFi Devboard works

  • Flipper Zero offers a variety of tools for exploring and testing wireless standards and protocols
  • One of the most popular hardware extensions for Flipper Zero is the WiFi Devboard
  • Compiling the firmware is easy for Flipper Zero, but quite complicated for the WiFi Devboard
  • Once the development environment is set up, further customizations are easily possible

The Flipper Zero is a very versatile tool for researching and testing radio protocols, access control systems, hardware in the fields of RFID, RF, infrared, HID emulation, GPIO, hardware debugging, 1-Wire/iButton, Bluetooth, Wifi and more. It is inspired by well-known open source projects such as Proxmark, HydraNFC, Rubber Ducky, pwnagotchi and is offered in a handy form factor. The Flipper Zero is already equipped with many functionalities in its standard configuration and can be adapted and expanded quite easily due to its open source nature. On the one hand, hardware extensions can be connected via its GPIO PINs and on the other hand, various firmware distributions are freely available as open source. This article deals with the popular hardware extension WiFi Devboard and shows how to adapt, compile and install the corresponding software and firmware. All commands shown in this article apply to Linux systems, but can also be carried out on macOS or Windows systems in the same way.

Firmware overview

The firmware is the operating system of the Flipper Zero and usually also contains various apps. In addition to the official version, there are now quite a few alternatives with various additional functions and customizations. There are many resources on these topics on Github. One of the most useful collections is awesome-flipperzero.

An overview of the most common firmware variants is summarized in the following table.

Name Description Link
OfficialSource code of the official Flipper Zero firmware https://github.com/flipperdevices/flipperzero-firmware
Unleashed Firmware with support for rolling codes, community plugins and other additions https://github.com/DarkFlippers/unleashed-firmware
RogueMaster Fork of the Unleashed firmware with custom graphics, experimental customizations, plugins and games https://github.com/RogueMaster/flipperzero-firmware-wPlugins
Xtreme Fork of the official firmware with cleaned up code, more extensions and custom assetshttps://github.com/ClaraCrazy/Flipper-Xtreme
XvirusFork of the Unleashed firmware https://github.com/DXVVAY/xvirus-firmware
SquachWare Fork of the official firmware with custom graphics and applications from the community https://github.com/skizzophrenic/SquachWare-CFW
Haisenteck Fork of the official firmware with various adjustments, e.g. in the SubGhz area https://github.com/haisenteck/flipperzero-Haisenteck
Korai Fork of the official firmware with complete BLE stack https://github.com/Korai-Labs/Korai

Update methods

There are various methods for updating the firmware:

Compile firmware

Flipper Zero firmware normally consists of various components: Radio Stack, Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL), Operating System (OS), Driver and Applications.

Most firmware distributions include the Firmware Build Tool fbt, which comes from the original firmware and is essentially a wrapper for SCons. This tool is very useful because it can obtain a ready-made toolchain directly from the Internet and allows you to compile and install the Flipper firmware with a simple command. Using the Xtreme firmware as an example, it is shown below how this firmware is compiled and installed on a Flipper Zero.

First clone the git repository, which is currently approx. 670 MB in size: $ git clone https://github.com/Flipper-XFW/Xtreme-Firmware.git

Linux recognizes a Flipper Zero connected to the USB port as a Virtual Serial USB Device under /dev/ttyACM0 (the number can also be larger), for which the kernel module cdc_acm is responsible.

With the help of fbt, the compilation and subsequent installation of the generated firmware on the pinball machine can be combined in one command: ./Xtreme-Firmware/fbt COMPACT=1 DEBUG=0 flash_usb_full

When this command is executed for the first time, fbt first loads the toolchain, consisting of the GNU compiler for ARM and associated tools and libraries, and stores it under ./Xtreme-Firmware/toolchain. In addition, several submodules, including the FreeRTOS kernel, are automatically obtained from Github. Now the entire firmware is generated as a “self-update package” with all resources, i.e. including all apps, and stored in the directory ./Xtreme-Firmware/dist/f7-C/. Several files are generated, whereby the file firmware.dfu is the actual firmware and the file resources.tar contains the apps and other resources. If fbt finds a connected pinball machine, it will be updated automatically. If you only want to create the update package without installing it, the updater_package option must be used instead of flash_usb_full.

WiFi Devboard / ESP32

Probably the best-known hardware extension for the Flipper Zero is the WiFi Devboard. It offers a system-on-a-chip (SoC) platform based on the ESP32-S2 chipset from the manufacturer Espressiv, which offers 2.4 GHz WiFi connectivity and contains its own CPU.

WiFi Devboard with connections and buttons

The Wifi Devboard uses its own firmware and can be controlled via apps on the pinball machine. The board is connected to the Flipper Zero via the GPIO PINs.

Functionality

The standard firmware of the WiFi Devboard contains Black Magic Debug, which enables debugging of the Flipper Zero firmware based on the GNU Debugger (GDB). The WiFi Devboard acts as a GDB server and can be accessed via WiFi or USB interface. With the standard firmware, no functionalities for WiFi network analysis or penetration testing are available.

Updating the firmware

Standard firmware

The standard firmware of the WiFi devboard is very easy to update with the micro Flipper Build Tool (uFBT) Python module. It is installed as follows: python -m pip install --upgrade ufbt

Now connect the board via USB. Then press and hold the BOOT button on the board and then press the RESET button, then release the BOOT button. The devboard now appears as a device under /dev/ttyACM0. Update the firmware with the following command: python3 -m ufbt devboard_flash

Then press the RESET button, disconnect and reconnect the USB connection and the devboard will appear as a serial device and is ready.

Alternative firmware

If you want to use the WiFi devboard for offensive purposes, you need the appropriate firmware. The best known are Marauder, which contains various offensive and defensive WiFi tools, and Evil Portal, which implements an access point with a captive portal for collecting access data. Both repositories contain pre-compiled .bin files, which can be installed with the Marauder Flasher (automatically) or with the web-based tool https://esp.huhn.me/. The Xtreme firmware also offers the option of installing the Marauder or Evil Portal firmware on the WiFi devboard directly from the pinball machine using an app, but this did not work properly in our tests. The Flipper Zero itself requires apps to interact with the WiFi Devboard, which are already included in the Xtreme firmware.

Note: The latest versions of Marauder now also include an Evil Portal function, but this seems to require an SD card connected directly to the ESP32 and therefore does not work with the WiFi Devboard.

Compile and install source code

If you want to make adjustments to the firmware of the WiFi devboard, you must then compile the source code and install the firmware created in this way on the devboard. The following sections show how this is done using the Marauder firmware as an example.

Installing the development tools for Arduino

  1. The first step is to install the development environment (IDE) for Arduino. There are various packages for Linux, macOS and Windows on the Arduino website. When the IDE is started for the first time, various packages are automatically loaded and installed.
  2. Now the following “Board manager URLs” must be added under File > Preferences:
    • https://dl.espressif.com/dl/package_esp32_index.json
    • https://raw.githubusercontent.com/espressif/arduino-esp32/gh-pages/package_esp32_dev_index.json
      Arduino IDE with additional board manager URLs
  3. Next, search for esp32 under Tools > Board > Boards Manager. Now select version 2.0.14 from the search result “esp32 by Espressif Systems” and click on the INSTALL button.
    Installation of the ESP32 board support
  4. Now a few adjustments must be made to the compiler settings. To do this, open the file ~/.arduino15/packages/esp32/hardware/esp32/2.0.14/platform.txt in an editor.
  5. Add the -w flag to all the following settings:
    • build.extra_flags.esp32
    • build.extra_flags.esp32s2
    • build.extra_flags.esp32s3
    • build.extra_flags.esp32c3
  6. Add the flag -zmuldefs to all the following settings:
    • compiler.c.elf.libs.esp32
    • compiler.c.elf.libs.esp32s2
    • compiler.c.elf.libs.esp32s3
    • compiler.c.elf.libs.esp32c3
  7. The following libraries must now be downloaded as zip files from Github and installed in the Arduino IDE via the menu Sketch > Include Library > Add .ZIP Library.... The Arduino IDE can then automatically update these libraries and displays a message when an update is available.
  8. The Arduino ESP32 filesystem uploader is required to upload the firmware to the devboard. To do this, download the latest release and place it in the correct directory with the following command: unzip ESP32FS-1.1.zip -d ~/Arduino/tools The result should then look like this: ~/Arduino/tools/ESP32FS/tool/esp32fs.jar
  9. Now the source code of Marauder can be downloaded: git clone https://github.com/justcallmekoko/ESP32Marauder.git

Finally, the file esp32_marauder.ino can be opened in the Arduino IDE, which opens the entire source code in the IDE. Now select the file configs.h and remove the comment character from the line //#define MARAUDER_FLIPPER in the BOARD TARGETS section (approx. line 19). All other lines in this section should be commented out. The source code can now be edited.

Compilation is carried out with the menu command Sketch > Verify/Compile. If the error ModuleNotFoundError: No module named 'serial' occurs, the Python module pyserial must be installed.

Install firmware

  1. To install the firmware on the WiFi devboard, it must be connected to a USB port and then set to firmware download mode: Press and hold the BOOT button on the board and then press the RESET button, then release the BOOT button.
  2. Now select the devboard in the Arduino IDE via the Menu Tools > Port, it should be displayed as /dev/ttyACM0 (ESP32S2 Dev Module).
  3. In the menu Tools > Board > esp32 select the entry ESP32S3 Dev Module.
  4. In the menu Tools > Partition Scheme select the entry Minimal SPIFFS (1.9 MB App with OTA/190KB SPIFFS).
  5. In the Sketch menu, select the Upload command, which writes the firmware to the devboard. If the error message A fatal error occurred: Could not open /dev/ttyACM0, the port doesn't exist appears, the authorizations of the port /dev/ttyACM0 should be checked and adjusted if necessary. Then restart the devboard using the RESET button and the new firmware will be executed.

Summary

Compiling and installing firmware for the Flipper Zero and for the WiFi Devboard yourself is perfectly feasible. The official firmware for the pinball machine contains an easy-to-use tool that makes compilation and installation very simple. On the other hand, the initial setup of a development environment for the WiFi Devboard is relatively complicated and requires various libraries to be installed manually. Once this has been mastered and all the necessary tools have been installed, future compilations and installations are quite simple.

About the Author

Tomaso Vasella

Tomaso Vasella has a Master in Organic Chemistry at ETH Z├╝rich. He is working in the cybersecurity field since 1999 and worked as a consultant, engineer, auditor and business developer. (ORCID 0000-0002-0216-1268)

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