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Windows Update driver bricks knockoff FTDI microcontrollers

Posted on Thursday, October 23 2014 @ 12:54:47 CEST by

ARS Technica writes a recent driver update rolled out via Windows Update for FTDI chips bricks hardware that uses knockoff FTDI chips. The update reprograms counterfeit chips and renders them largely useless, even on other operating systems. It's unknown if FTDI did this on purpose or whether somehow the knockoff chips react in a different way that causes them to brick, but most in the hardware community believe the behavior is deliberate. Fortunately, it seems possible to recover the broken parts via FTDI recovery software by reinstating the correct PID. FTDI chips are used in hobbyist hardware such as the Arduino project.
The result of this is that well-meaning hardware developers updated their systems through Windows Update, and then found that the serial controllers they used stopped working. Worse, it's not simply that the drivers refuse to work with the chips; the chips also stopped working with Linux systems. This has happened even to developers who thought that they had bought legitimate FTDI parts. It can be difficult to tell, and stories of OEMs and ODMs quietly ignoring design specs and using knock-offs instead of official parts are not uncommon. As such, even hardware that was designed and specified as using proper FTDI chips could be affected.

Every USB device has a pair of IDs. One, the Vendor ID (VID) is allocated by the USB group. Each vendor has its own unique VID, and uses that VID on every USB device it makes. The second is the Product ID (PID), allocated by the vendor, with each distinct chip type having its own PID. Windows uses the VID/PID pair to figure out which driver a given piece of hardware needs. The counterfeit chips use FTDI's VID, and set the PID to the PID of whichever chip it is they're cloning (FTDI has a range of similar parts, each with their own PIDs).



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