Revamping the badge: we’re launching the OFFZONE 2023 add-on contest

OFFZONE
8 min readMay 31, 2023

The OFFZONE badge is more than just a pass card to the conference. In fact, this is our signature interactive device that can be customized with add-ons. We’re launching a contest of ideas for add-ons. Join the fun and get a chance to win a free ticket to OFFZONE!

The OFFZONE badge is more than just a pass card to the conference. Actually, it’s not even a card as one would imagine, but our signature interactive device that can be customized with add-ons. If you’re new to OFFZONE and have no clue what we’re talking about, you may want to learn more about our badge and its evolution.

Each time, we come up with a unique design and new features for the badge. If you happen to be a loyal OFFZONE fan, you may have already got a small collection of our badges.

Last year, we incorporated an add-on customization feature into the badge. We saw this idea previously take off at DEF CON and really liked it. An add-on is a small printed circuit board (PCB) that can be attached to the badge with four-pin plugs, also called connectors. The badge’s main board will have at least 2 slots for add-ons.

We suggested OFFZONE 2022 participants create their own add-ons and then picked the ones we liked the most. Here they are:

This year, we’re launching the contest again. To join it, follow the step-by-step instructions below. Send us your Gerber files with brief descriptions to info@offzone.moscow. The deadline for submissions is June 26.

We’ve prepared the instructions in such a way that anyone can make an add-on from scratch. The winners won’t have to worry about the production, we’ll take care of that!

How to create an add-on

Here’s your step-by-step guide to designing your own add-on.

0. Read the requirements:

  • Maximum dimensions: 5 cm x 5 cm
  • Connector location: at the bottom and approximately in the center of your add-on
  • Maximum power consumption of the add-on electrical circuit: 100 mA
  • Solder mask colors: green, red, yellow, blue, black, or white
  • Screen print colors: red, yellow, blue, black, or white
  • Power supply for your electrical circuit: 3.3 V
  • Connection interface: I2C
  • PCB topology: single or double-sided, one conducting layer per side
  • PCB input data format: Gerber

For convenience, our colleagues abroad have standardized the add-on pinout and size. All this was jokingly called a “shitty connector.” It hurts to look at these specs, but anyway it has all the data you need to design your own add-on.

1. Come up with an idea. Your idea can be anything: a meme character, your personal symbol, a company’s logo, or even a cat’s nose. At its simplest, you can get away with just a ready image, preferably in a vector SVG or DXF format, and import it into the PCB design software. You may be better off if you use black-and-white images for import. Also, we advise you the graphics editor Inkscape to prepare your images for import.

Here are some add-ons from OFFZONE 2022 to inspire you:

2. Think of extra features if you need them. If you have an idea for an add-on component, get in touch with us via info@offzone.moscow. We’ll be happy to discuss it and help you implement it.

3. Choose your development toolset. At this stage, decide which computer-aided design (CAD) system you’re going to use. There are tons of PCB layout software out there for all tastes and colors. Here are the most popular and accessible tools: KiCAD, EasyEDA, DipTrace, and CircuitStudio. KiCAD is open-source and free to use. The other three are commercial products whose trial versions offer enough functionality to create your own add-on.

It’s difficult to give advice on the choice of any particular CAD system. Each has its pros and cons, so just play around with the options.

4. Learn the basic CAD features. All CADs have a fair number of tutorials with examples of use. Also, they all have a similar development pipeline: once you get the hang of a CAD system, you won’t have much trouble learning another one.

We would recommend that you practice PCB design as follows:

  • Use basic components to build a simple electrical circuit made up of a couple of LEDs.
  • Fill out the rules to check the topology.
  • Experiment with different options for solder masks, metallization, and screen printing in your PCB editor.
  • Try to import images to the board.
  • Figure out the mechanism for creating polygons and layout verification.
  • Lay out your first PCB.

5. Design your add-on board. If you’re already experienced in PCB development or have confident CAD skills, you can move on to laying out your add-on.

6. Export your files into Gerber, the manufacturing format.

After you’ve laid out the add-on board, you will need to perform a simple yet important step — export the printed circuit board project into Gerber files. This should render a group of files that is a layer-by-layer description of your board.

To view the resulting Gerber files, you can use Altium 365 Viewer:

7. Choose your production method: factory or toner transfer or a victory in the contest.

You can place an order with a PCB manufacturer in your country. Besides, there are quite a few Chinese factories out there: PCBWay, JLCPCB, ALLPCB, etc. As an upside, this gives cheap and quality results. As a downside, your PCB will take some time to arrive, as it will have quite the distance to travel.

The other, hardcore option, is to create the add-on by yourself using the toner transfer or photoresist method. It’s hard, pricey, and time-consuming, but captivating!

Here are some boards made using toner transfer:

8. Order your PCB from a factory or make your own using toner transfer.

By now, you should have settled on the production method. Are you going with factory? Great, now you have to place your order. Typically, that includes filling out a form on the manufacturer’s website, uploading your Gerber files, and making the payment.

However, if you’ve chosen the path of a true samurai and decided to make the add-on board yourself, it’s time to stock up on the necessary materials and get to work. There are tons of instructions and recommendations on the web for PCB etching, so you won’t get lost.

9. Stock up on cocoa and patience. At this point, there will be some PCB magic going on in the factory (if you chose contract manufacturing) or in your kitchen (if you opted for toner transfer).

10. Profit!

By this stage, you should have received your PCB from the manufacturer or completed your own. Well done! Examine the result carefully.

In case something didn’t work out or doesn’t match your original idea, panic not. Developing any PCB, or electronics in general, is a process of iterations, and an add-on is no exception. Fix the errors and repeat the order or manufacturing step. If you’ve reached this stage, you already know how to design a PCB.

And if you were able to achieve the desired result in the first attempt, congrats!

11. Come around to OFFZONE 2023 and show off your PCB.

Keep in mind that the fourth international conference on practical cybersecurity OFFZONE will be held on August 24–25. It will bring together security specialists, developers, engineers, researchers, lecturers, and students from Russia and abroad. The event focuses only on technical content dedicated to current industry trends. To learn how to participate, visit the event’s website.

Glossary

  1. Add-on. An element of customization that we borrowed from our western colleagues at DEF CON. It’s a small printed circuit board that can be connected to the main board of the badge using pre-assembled connectors.
  2. Printed circuit board (PCB). A textolite sheet with electrical conductivity lines printed or etched. It is a medium used to connect electronic components to one another in a controlled manner. It serves as a foundation for an add-on.
  3. Shitty connector. A simple four-pin plug consisting of two power supply pins (ground and VDD) and two I2C lines. More details about the interface can be found here. Note the photos of finished add-ons from DEF CON.
  4. I2C. A two-pin communication bus used for connecting add-ons.
  5. PCB solder mask, or solder paste. A layer of protective material that covers the entire surface of a printed circuit board (except for the contact pads). Screen printing is used to add text or graphics on the surface of a PCB.
  6. Polygon. PCB areas used to create continuous layers of metallization or screen print.
  7. Screen printing. A technique of ink traces used to superimpose texts, symbols, and other visuals on the surface of a PCB. For us, “screen print” also refers to the actual text and visuals on a PCB.
  8. Metallization. PCB surface areas free from solder paste and screen print. These areas can be additionally plated with a thin layer of metal.
  9. Gerber (.gbr). A file that describes the production of a PCB. Gerber files are commonly accepted by PCB factories and our add-on contest organizers.
  10. Toner transfer. A way to produce simple PCBs at home. For a very basic PCB, you will need a sheet of textolite, a laser printer, an iron, and a solution of ferric chloride.

Disclaimer

By taking part in the OFFZONE 2023 add-on contest (Contest) the Participant:

1. Undertakes not to use the results of intellectual activity of third parties, and also guarantees that the materials used by the Participant in the course of the contest do not violate property and/or non-property rights, copyright and related rights, as well as other third-party rights.

“BiZone” LLC (Organizer) is not liable for the violation of any third-party rights, including intellectual rights, by the Contractor. The Participant is solely liable for all the damages arising from the violation of third-party rights and shall indemnify the Organizer against any and all damages incurred through the fault of the Participant.

2. Consents to the processing of personal data by the Organizer in the manner prescribed by the Federal Law “On Personal Data.” The personal data is processed for the purposes of the Contest and includes collection, recording, organization, accumulation, storage, clarification (updating, modification), retrieval, application, transfer (distribution), modification, blocking, erasure, destruction or other actions (operations) with personal data performed with or without the use of automation means, with the right of the Organizer and the Contest jury to exchange information between themselves, including the processing of information related to the Participant’s entry in the Contest.

3. Provides the Organizer with consent to use the Participant’s photo and video images in materials related to the Contest, for advertising and other purposes for an unlimited period of time and without any remuneration.

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