Breaking the RS41

The main goal of this project was to dump and inspect the original firmware of the popular Vaisala RS41 meteosonde.

The hardware is already very well researched and there are public repositories documenting the PCBs and individual components used:

On the software side, not much work has been done because of the chip protection. The meteosonde has some pretty neat peripherals that we don't know how to work with, especially the expansion module or NFC communication, so a firmware dump could be quite handy for further reverse engineering.

The RS41 and its pressure module RPM411 use the STM32F100C8 (value line) as the main processor, with key features:

By default, the chip is locked against data readout by RDP level 1 in the meteosonde and in the add-on module. What is level 1?

Apart from invasive methods, it is almost impossible to read the contents of the chip, and it is also not possible to step through the firmware. However, like all software, hardware contains vulnerabilities that could help break protection.

In 2020, three gentlemen (Johannes Obermaier, Marc Schink, Kosma Moczek) presented several ways to break RDP in the STM32F1 and its Chinese clones and make them dump the contents of the flash, for details see

Since the meteosonde contains the original STM chip, we choose the last method, a combination of two errors - power supply manipulation and FPB overwriting. This method proceeds as follows:

There were a couple of problems with this process. At first, the main chip code (written in C) was HardFaulting the controller. Reason still unknown, but I've worked around this by stepping and tweaking the code to just work. With second chip there was a problem with the power glitch itself - it seems that some internal settings affect how long the MCU can be left without power to preserve SRAM. The controller has been updated to fix the glitch time and not wait for RST to be down. The time was simply determined by trial and error.

This heavily edited exploit finally allowed us to dump two firmwares for analysis and much needed step-by-step debugging in the live device.

Unlocked device

Using the STM32Programmer, we removed the RDP and WRP and flashed back the firmware - this also means that the chip erases itself for obvious reasons. We then uploaded the dumped firmware. When the chip was rebooted, another problem arose. The firmware was actively running procedures to lock the chip again - so some analysing and patching of the firmware was required to prepare the "open" device.

The RDP locking procedure uses the FLASH_OBR register, so it was quite easy to find the code doing the work by finding the hex value 0x4002201C - address of the register. Later, the function call to this code was overridden with two "mov r8,r8" instructions in both firmwares:

Interesting places in dumps



Firmware seems to be structurally the same. Setup function with multiple calls to peripherals init, also locking function included.

A very handy approach to reverse engineering the firmware is to look at ARM/STM32 registers such as SPI or UART and trace the functions that deal with them.

Captured communication between boards

It appears that all important communication is done via the SPI and not the UART. Dumped transfer is available at spi-dump.txt. It seems that some initialisation is required, as no values are sent - just settings and some sort of regular ping.

Side notes