RadioConda – Installing GNU Radio on Windows

TLDR: To install GNU Radio on Windows, just install RadioConda and the drivers for your SDR. Create a shortcut, double-click, and you’re running GNU Radio Companion! For hardware support, simply install the drivers for your platform.

The longer version of this post will provide a step-by-step process for using RadioConda to install GNU Radio on your Windows PC as well as building a quick flowgraph to test the installation. I’ll also show you how to enable support for the following hardware:

  • HackRF
  • PlutoSDR

In addition, I’ll introduce Python virtual environments in general, Conda more specifically, and Radioconda more specifically than that.

What are Virtual Environments?

These are configurations for your computer that include a specific version of Python as well as a number of applications, packages, and dependencies. What’s great is that none of this is installed on your machine itself! You can enter the virtual environment, execute applications, and then exit the virtual environment. Upon exiting, your operating system will return to the state it was in prior to entering the virtual environment.

What is Conda?

Conda is a powerful management tool for virtual environments. You can use it to create any number of Conda environments, and use very simple commands to install hundreds of packages.

What is Mamba?

Mamba is essentially an optimized, higher-performing version of Conda (stuff installs faster).

What is RadioConda?

Finally, we’ve arrived at the tool we’re going to use! RadioConda is based on Conda, but its default configuration includes a ton of SDR-specific packages, such as GNU Radio, RF apps, SDR hardware support, and many key out-of-tree modules. Installing it on your Windows, Linux, or Mac machine will give you an enormous amount of SDR software. And like any other Conda environment, you can enter and exit it at will, leaving your core operating system unaffected.

RadioConda Installation Process for Windows

Navigate to the RadioConda GitHub Page:


Download the Windows installer. If using Edge, you may be temporarily prevented from completing the download. If you click on the downloads button on the upper right, you may see this warning:

Click on the three dots to select “Keep”

And then confirm by selecting “Keep anyway”

Your download should then show as complete

Double-click the installer

Agree to the license

Choose the scope of the installation (“Just Me” is good for most users, unless you want multiple users to have access the software on your machine)

Select a location for the installed files (or just click “Install” to accept the default)

The install will take a few minutes. Click “Next” when it completes

Then click “Finish”

You can now access GNU Radio Companion from your start bar by typing “gnu”

It’s a good idea to click “Pin to taskbar” if you want easy access

Installing HackRF Support

Go back to the RadioConda GitHub Page and find the hardware support section

Clicking the “HackRF (setup)” link leads you down the page to the following:

Clicking the “Install the WinUSB driver with Zadig” link moves you further down the page to this:

Clicking the “Zadig” link takes you to this site, which hosts a general purpose USB driver for windows devices

Scrolling down a bit, you’ll find a download link for the most recent version of the driver. Note that the advertising on this site is… extensive… and that there are may be several other links appearing to be downloads. The “Zadig 2.9” link below is the one you want (although the version may have changed by the time you read this post)

Double-click the installer, and allow it to check for updates online

Then click “Install WCID Driver”

Installing PlutoSDR Support

Go back to the RadioConda GitHub Page and find the hardware support section

Click the “libiio (setup)” link, which leads you down the page to this

Click the link to download, then run the installer, accepting the license agreement

Confirm (or modify) the install location

Then confirm to begin installing

This brings you to an installer wizard, at which you click “Next”

Confirm install from Analog Devices

And Finish

Testing the Installation – HackRF

Bring up GNU Radio by typing GNU into the start bar or clicking the shortcut you’ve made

On the first attempt, I’ve seen a glitch where only a blank window appears. In that case, close the blank window and try again. You should then see the GNU Radio Companion interface.

Create a flowgraph as follows:

  1. change existing samp_rate variable to “10e6”
  2. add a Soapy HackRF Source with
    • RF Options -> Bandwidth: samp_rate
    • RF Options -> Center Freq (Hz): 98e6
  3. add a QT GUI Frequency Sink with
    • General -> Center Frequency (Hz): 98e6
  4. Connect the source output to the sink input
  5. Save the flowgraph

Attach your HackRF to the PC via USB. After executing the flowgraph using the Play button in the toolbar, you should a live frequency plot several FM broadcast signals. The specific frequencies you observe will be different depending on the FM broadcasts in your area.

Testing the Installation – PlutoSDR

Bring up GNU Radio by typing GNU into the start bar or clicking the shortcut you’ve made

On the first attempt, I’ve seen a glitch where only a blank window appears. In that case, close the blank window and try again. You should then see the GNU Radio Companion interface.

Create a flowgraph as follows:

  1. change existing samp_rate variable to “10e6”
  2. add a Soapy PLUTO Source with
    • RF Options -> Bandwidth: samp_rate
    • RF Options -> Center Freq (Hz): 98e6
  3. add a QT GUI Frequency Sink with
    • General -> Center Frequency (Hz): 98e6
  4. Connect the source output to the sink input
  5. Save the flowgraph

    (Ignore the disabled Soapy HackRF Source in the image below)

Attach your PlutoSDR to the PC via USB. After executing the flowgraph using the Play button in the toolbar, you should a live frequency plot several FM broadcast signals. The specific frequencies you observe will be different depending on the FM broadcasts in your area.

Shortest GNU Radio Install Post Ever

When I co-wrote my first SDR book back in 2017, my GNU Radio installation guidance was not to run this:

sudo apt install gnuradio

The most recent Ubuntu LTS version at the time was 16.04, and the above command resulted in GNU Radio 3.7, rather than the more current (at that time) version 3.8. For a time, I recommended PyBombs, then BASH scripts that installed from source, then using the GNU Radio PPA.

Now if you have Ubuntu 24.04, running that previously troublesome command above gets you GNU Radio 3.10.9.2 – just a tick behind the bleeding edge!

So forget what I said before. If you want to try GNU Radio, consider moving to Ubuntu 24.04 LTS and just “apt install” it.

PS: if you prefer a different Linux distro, you can check to see if your default repository contains a recent version or not.

Arsenal Labs at Black Hat 2022

Hello Factoria Labs readers! As you may know, Black Hat USA happened earlier this month in Las Vegas. As well as teaching an in-person SDR class, I was also honored to present a hands-on project at the Arsenal Labs – we had a great turnout, as you can see from the picture.

Arsenal Labs
Black Hat 2022 – Arsenal Labs

My project was an end-to-end, RF reversal of a simple garage door protocol. Although the signal produced by the garage door remote was not terribly complicated, the project provided a full view of the reversing process, including:

  • scanning for the remote’s signal
  • capturing the signal to disk
  • tuning and demodulating to produce a digital baseband waveform
  • identifying the framing and encoding of the baseband waveform and then extracting the bits
  • building a simple transmitter to implement the reversed protocol
  • building a more complex transmitter to implement brute force attacks

If you caught my presentation and wanted to look at starter and solution projects, it’s all at:

https://github.com/paulgclark/garage_door

I’ve also included a PDF of the printed handout we had for Arsenal attendees.

If you’re curious, the garage door remote used in the lab was this model:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RSDQKM9

Thanks for reading!

gr-fosphor Installation for NVidia GPUs

In case you didn’t know, we maintain a set of GNU Radio-related install scripts at:
https://github.com/paulgclark/grc-install

All of these scripts build from source and install the resulting libraries and executables to a local target directory. One of the popular out-of-tree (OOT) add-ons to GNU Radio is fosphor. It’s a really neat visualization tool that allows you to much better see what’s going on in the frequency domain. It essentially combines a frequency plot with a waterfall plot. It’s an invaluable tool for exploring the RF spectrum.

In this example, you’re looking at an LTE channel in the center of the plot, and you can actually make out some of the traffic running through the frequency and time multiplexing. Note the increased detail relative to a simple frequency plot of the same swath of spectrum:

Great stuff, right? There’s just one catch to all this – foshpor relies on OpenCL, which usually relies on your system’s GPU. This makes installing gr-fosphor a little more complicated than your typical OOT module. We’ve had an install script available for Intel GPUs for a while, but our Nvidia GPU script was less well tested. Well, we’ve finally had an opportunity to do that testing and update the install script, so if you’ve got an NVidia-based Ubuntu 20.04 system, I encourage to to check it out!

Install Instructions

Get git and our GitHub repo:

sudo apt install -y git
mkdir ~/install
cd ~/install
git clone https://github.com/paulgclark/grc-install

Install GNU Radio from source (this takes 15-30 minutes depending on your system):

cd ~/install/grc-install/install_scripts
sudo ./grc_from_source.sh

Open a new terminal window (THIS IS IMPORTANT! You need the environment variables the script above creates to proceed) and install gr-fosphor:

cd ~/install/grc-install/install_scripts/fosphor
sudo -E ./fosphor_nvidia_gpu.sh

At this point, you can test that fosphor was correctly installed by plugging in your Ettus B2XX SDR (if you have one) and executing the following flowgraph:

gnuradio-companion ~/install/grc-install/grc/fosphor/fosphor-example.grc

(when the execution window comes up, you may need to stretch it to increase the window size to reveal the fosphor visualization)

If you have a different SDR, you’ll need to install support for that and swap out the USRP Source in the flowgraph for the appropriate SDR source (we do have install scripts for HackRF, Lime and Pluto as well).

If you have the latest NVidia drivers, fosphor should work. If however, you encounter an error, it is likely caused by an older GPU driver version. You can check and fix this by hitting the “Windows” key and typing “additional drivers”

Then click on the Additional Drivers icon. You should then see the driver options for your GPU:

If you don’t have the latest driver version selected (460 in the case of the image above), then select the latest version, apply changes and reboot.

If this helps, please let us know in the comments below. Good luck!

Online SDR Training Now Live!

Hello SDR Fans!

It’s been a long-time goal of ours to put our SDR training online in an on-demand format, so that people around the world could learn SDR at any time. That’s finally started happening! Our first class is online, and we’re working on the second right now. After that, are more to come.

We broke up our content into chunks roughly one day in length, though they will likely run a bit longer than that. Our first course, for example, has over 7 hours of video. Given the time it will take you to work through the projects, this will be more than a day for nearly everyone.

While the on-demand format is new, the material is very similar to what we’ve been teaching for years to private customers and at conferences such as Black Hat and the Wild West Hackin’ Fest. The main difference is that a few of the hardware projects required some changes so you can complete them in a virtual setting. We’ll do these projects in a simulation mode, but we’ll demonstrate all of the things you’ll need to do to make them work in the real world. We’ve also simplified the process of getting GNU Radio running on your system by providing you with a virtual machine containing all of the software and project files you’ll need.

We will also be offering a new in-person class consisting almost entirely of hardware projects, as a companion to these online classes. The companion class will provide hand-on training with SDR hardware and live signals, while the online classes will allow you to do most of your training at your own pace. Stay tuned for details on that.

We hope the chance to learn SDR in a more flexible (and distanced) way is useful to you. If so, please check us out!

Updated gnuradio Install Instructions

As some of you have noted, the installation instructions for gnuradio and HackRF contained in our Field Expedient SDR series no longer work. To remedy this I’ve created a set of installation scripts that automate nearly all of the steps required, updated for newer versions of gnuradio/uhd/osmosdr and supporting the Ubuntu 18.04 LTS.

The scripts install from specific releases and commits of the source code, so they should be much more stable than previous iterations of the instructions.

TLDR

On an Ubuntu 18.04 installation perform the following:

  1. Open a new terminal (Ctl+Alt+t) and type:
    sudo apt -y install git
    mkdir -p install
    cd install
    git clone https://github.com/paulgclark/grc-install
    cd grc-install/install_scripts
    sudo ./grc_from_source.sh

    (This will install both gnuradio and the UHD drivers. It will take between 0.5 to 1.5 hours.)
  2. Open a new terminal and type:
    cd install/grc-install/install_scripts
    ./hackrf_from_source.sh
    (This will install the hackrf tools and the osmocom blocks. It will take only a few minutes.)
  3. Open a third terminal and start gnuradio companion with:
    gnuradio-companion
  4. Depending on the hardware you have available, you can open the following flowgraphs inside gnuradio-companion to test your setup:
    ~/install/grc-install/grc/hackrf-test/fm_receiver_hardware.grc
    ~/install/grc-install/grc/uhd-test/fm_receiver_hardware.grc

Installing gnuradio 3.8

By default the gnuradio install script installs version 3.7.13.5, the latest release before 3.8. If you want to try out the new version, simply type:
sudo ./grc_from_source.sh 3.8

Note that the osmocom team hasn’t yet updated the blocks used for interfacing with the HackRF such that they work with version 3.8 of gnuradio. I’ve instead used Igor Freire‘s fork of their repository (actually, it’s his fork of Mickey Vänskä‘s fork of the osmocom repo). Thanks to both Igor and Mickey!

Installation Scheme

One of the big benefits of the PyBOMBS scheme we originally used in the book was the fact that it installs everything to a target directory under your home directory, rather than doing a global install to root-owned directories. The environment is then loaded with a simple call to a setup_env.sh script generated by the install process (which is automatically added to your ~/.bashrc).

This means if something goes wrong, you can just rm -r the target directory and delete a single line from your .bashrc file. You can then start over without worrying about the previous install polluting your environment.

I’ve preserved this scheme in the new scripts as well. By default the scripts will use the following directory for the target:
~/install/sdr

If you want to use a different target, simply run the script with the new target directory as the second argument. If installing 3.7 this would be:
sudo ./grc_from_source.sh 3.7 ~/install2

For 3.8, it would be
sudo ./grc_from_source.sh 3.8 ~/install2

This installation flow also allows you to easily keep multiple versions of gnuradio on disk. You simply install 3.7 to one target directory and 3.8 to another. You then enable the setup_env.sh file corresponding to the one you want to use at any given moment.

Conclusion

I’ve tested these scripts on numerous laptops and believe I’ve worked out all the issues with both Ettus and HackRF hardware. If you do have an issue, please let me know on GitHub or via email.

SDR Training in Seattle

Hello readers! Until now, our schedule has only allowed time for SDR training at customer sites or at conferences such as Black Hat and the Wild West Hackinfest. After many requests, we’re finally able to offer an open class, where individual students can sign up and learn the ins and outs of Software Defined Radio.

As always, these are small class sizes full of intensive, hands-on learning. They’ll be held in the greater Seattle area (the suburb of Kirkland to be specific) from the 5th to the 8th of November. First will be our Intro to SDR class, then our Intermediate Digital class. If there’s enough demand, we’ll add on our Reverse Engineering and Python+gnuradio classes (email us if you’re interested).

You can register here, and if you sign up on or before the 3rd of October, you’ll get a discounted rate.

If you have any questions about the classes, please contact me at paul<at>factorialabs.com.

See you there!

SDR Tech Talk – BHIS

Hello Readers

Just wanted to let you know that I’ll doing a webcast with the fine folks at Black Hills InfoSec next Thursday. I’ll be talking about a frequency hopping SDR system I built using Python and the gnuradio API. It was intended as a proof-of-concept RF exfiltration system, but you could use the framework for any number of things.

The host transmits requests for data downstream to the exfil device, along with the frequency at which the information should be sent back. The concept is fairly straightforward, but it’s not always clear how build these types of systems with gnuradio. Specifically, there are a number of complications to getting payload data out of gnuradio flowgraphs and into Python code where you can act on that data. I’ll show you how I did this, as well as some best practices for building code-only gnuradio systems (i.e. without using the gnuradio-companion GUI).

The webcast will be next Thursday (11-Apr) at 2pm EST aka 11am PDT. You can register here.

If you want more information about how to build radio applications with gnuradio, I do have a class that you might be interested in. Please contact me if you’d like more information.

Learn SDR with us at Black Hat Vegas!

I believe it takes 4 days to learn the basics of software defined radio, even if you’ve never done a single radio-related thing in your life. Less than a week.

If you lay that solid foundation in SDR and gnuradio, you’ll be far more effective in your future endeavors, whether that’s:

  • scanning for and intercepting signals
  • reverse engineering transmissions
  • building your own programmable RF systems for exfiltration

Join us this August at Black Hat to get started with SDR. We have a two-day introductory class that’s perfect for beginners. You don’t need to know a thing, and you don’t need to bring a thing. You’ll use our laptops and SDR hardware. No pre-class installation homework, just show up and sit down. You’ll learn the basics of gnuradio, RF theory and SDR operation – which will enable you to build analog transmitters and receivers.

You can then move on to our Intermediate Digital SDR class, where we’ll work through all the stuff you need to build digital radios:

  • OOK, FSK, GFSK and PSK modulation
  • handling preambles, payload encodings and CRCs
  • clock synchronization!
  • and much more

If you’ve already spent some time with SDR and know the basics of gnuradio, you can jump straight to the intermediate class. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about this. We can also chat about our advanced classes in reverse engineering or gnuradio application development.

Hope to see you in Vegas!