All the Legal and Illegal Things You Can Do With a Flipper Zero | Lifehacker

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While I typically shy away from promoting outright evil here at Lifehacker (unless it’s Evil Week), I’d like to tell you about all the mildly evil things you can do with a gadget called the Flipper Zero. Despite its toy-like looks, this pocket-friendly multitool can be used for all kinds of hacking and penetration testing. It gives anyone an easy way to interact with the invisible waves that surround us, whether they’re RFID, NFC, Bluetooth, wifi, or radio. Think of it as a hacker Swiss army knife that you can buy for less than $200.

You can use a Flipper Zero for many purposes—to control your TV, cheat at Nintendo, replace your work ID, open your hotel room door, play games, and more. Some of these are totally aboveboard, and others are a bit shady, or worse: Their nefarious applications were enough for the Canadian government to move to ban them (reportedly because they can make it easier to steal certain cars).

On the other hand, a Flipper Zero is just a tool, and its ability to commit crimes is way overstated. Here are some of things you can do with a Flipper Zero, some more ill-advised than others.

Is the Flipper Zero legal?

Despite its potential to be used for illegal purposes, and despite what the Canadian government thinks of them, the Flipper Zero is legal in the United States. But it seems to have made some people here nervous too: A shipment of 15,000 Flippers was seized by customs in 2022, but later let through. In April 2023, South Dakota Fusion Center alerted authorities across the country about the potential use of the device by domestic terrorists, and Amazon banned sales of the Flipper Zero on their site for being a “card-skimming device.”

How does a Flipper Zero work?

The Flipper Zero is basically a two-way remote control that can receive, read, store and transmit a variety of wireless signals. There are plenty of other devices that can do some of these things, but the Flipper puts them all together. Plus, it’s easy to understand—anyone could pick one up and use it to read the NFC code on a credit card, or use it to turn off the TV at their neighbor’s house. The Flipper Zero’s gamified presentation (and actual games) and ease-of-use could be seen as a means to demystify the technology that surrounds us, or it could be seen as a way of giving people with limited knowledge a powerful tool to cause chaos. It’s all about how you use it.

What can you do with a Flipper Zero?

This is anything but a comprehensive list of things you can do with a Flipper Zero—there are a lot of possibilities—but here are some common ways the device can be used.

Use it as a universal remote

You can use the Flipper Zero to replace an infrared remote control, so your stereo, TV, air conditioner, and more can all be controlled from the same device. The Flipper uses “brute force” to send its library of IR codes wherever you point it, so you could use it to control devices with an IR remote that’s in range—unless they’re paired to their specific remote control. So you could use it to change the channel of the TV at a bar, or turn down your neighbor’s stereo at 2AM. (You shouldn’t, but you could.)

Take your pet’s temperature

If you’ve had a microchip implanted in your pet, a Flipper can read your pet’s identification number and take its temperature if it’s a thermo chip. Just hold it near where the RFID chip is inserted for a few seconds and bam—your pet’s number. If you don’t know where the chip was inserted, you can “scan” your pet with the Flipper and find it too. It cannot locate a lost pet, but neither can any scanner.

Clone keyless entry cards

If you have an ID that opens a door, you can (probably) clone it with a Flipper Zero, whether it’s your work badge or a hotel room key. That sounds like a security nightmare, but you have to have the original key to clone, so you can’t open any hotel room lock, just the one you have a keycard for already—and they’ll make you another copy at the front desk anyway.

Read your credit card information

A Flipper Zero can read credit cards. This is the functionality that got the device banned from Amazon, but it’s really not as bad as it seems. If you scan a card with a Flipper, it can read the card number and sometimes the date, but it can’t transmit the information or read the CVC number, so you won’t be able to use it to make purchases or empty someone’s bank account.

Crash smartphones

You can use a Flipper Zero to crash nearby Androids by flooding them with Bluetooth messages. It’s not exactly easy—you need to load a developer build of third-party firmware in order to run the “crash my enemy’s phone” app—but it’s possible.

Update: 12/15/2023 This used to be possible on iPhones, but in the latest iOS update, iOS 17.2, Apple has removed the Flipper’s ability to overload iPhones with spam Bluetooth requests. You can still send the requests, but it won’t cause the target to shut down. No word yet on a similar patch for Android phones.

Open a Tesla charging port

You can’t use a flipper to steal a Tesla, but you can use it to troll a Tesla owner by opening their car’s charging port (assuming this vulnerability hasn’t been fixed.)

Open garage doors or security gates

This one is iffy. Some older garage doors and security gates can be opened with a device like this. Newer models have better security and use rolling codes, so storing a code on a device like this wouldn’t work.

Ring someone’s doorbell from a distance

This will only work with some kinds of wireless, usually older doorbells—Ring or Nest doorbells are probably safe—and you need to first read the doorbell to get the right frequency, but if you do that, you can play ding-dong-ditch from a distance.

Clone your Nintendo Amiibos

Nintendo’s Amiibos are basically RFID chips surrounded by figurines. You can use a Flipper to scan and emulate the code and feed it back to your Nintendo Switch. Or you can use this database of Amiibo codes and skip the middleman to unlock in-game extras without buying a vinyl doll.

Explore the invisible energy fields all around you

Many people who purchase a Flipper are no doubt disappointed by its limitations—it’s not a universal hack-anything device. It is, though, a tool for checking out all the invisible fields around you. You can use it to see where your wifi signal is weakest, or discover exactly how often your iPhone is shooting IR waves at your face. You can use it to test the security of all your devices—doorbells, garage doors, locks, etc.—to make sure no one else can use a Flipper to mess with you.

Play video games

The Flipper Video Game Module, released in late 2023, is a Raspberry Pi-powered add-on that turns the Flipper Zero from a hacking/testing tool into a miniature game system. The Video Game Module adds motion sensing through a gyroscope and accelerometer, a controller port, a USB port, and a video-out jack, so you can use your TV as a Flipper Zero display. Read more of the details here.

Things a Flipper Zero can’t do

There’s a lot of misinformation about the capabilities of the Flipper Zero. It’s not a pocket device that can instantly hack anything, and there are safeguards in place to prevent the most obvious illegal uses. (This is not to say that Flipper Zero itself couldn’t be hacked to offer darker possibilities, of course.) So here are some evil things the Flipper can’t do—at least right out of the box.

Steal a car

Despite TikTok videos that suggest otherwise, you can’t use a Flipper to open and start a car, even your own. Keyless entry cars open when the fob sends a radio signal to a receiver in the car. That’s a piece of cake for a Flipper, except that all but the oldest cars with keyless entry use rolling codes that change every time you use one. So you might be able to use it one time, but that’s it. Still, setting up a single-use car door opening is an easy way to impress your friends. (There may be exceptions, however.)

Change the prices of gasoline

 The TikTok videos that show a Flipper user changing the prices on a sign at a gas station are fake.

Steal money from an ATM

Obviously, you can’t empty an ATM with a commercially available handheld device.

Change traffic signals

This one is complicated, because you could use a Flipper to control a set of external infrared LED lights that mimics an Opticom—a device that can change some traffic signals—but it’s not really the flipper that’s changing the signal, it’s the LED lights, and you could use something else to control them, too.

Open someone else’s hotel room door

While the Flipper can store and transmit the RFID signals needed to open a locked hotel room door, it can’t do it without physically holding the card near the device first. So you can’t open all the doors in a hotel—unless the establishment has a master keycard that you somehow get your hands on. But then why would you need the Flipper?

Is the Flipper Zero evil?

The Flipper Zero is not evil. If anything, for evil hacking, it’s overrated. The Flipper is a collection of tools bundled together in an attractive package—it’s useful and cool, but it’s not going to let you break into a bank vault or steal someone’s identity. While a nefarious person could use a Flipper to do a limited set of nefarious things, they could also use a hammer to smash windows instead of driving nails. In other words: It’s just a tool. The evil comes from how you use it.