The Most Traveled Security Screwdriver, A Hacker’s Tale

Nespresso is a variant of disposable single serve coffee pods with an extensive, expensive, and proprietary accessory line. After selling inconvenient bits of his soul for convenience and, admittedly, fairly tasty shots of coffee, [Chriss Lott] was predictably betrayed by his Nespresso Jura coffee machine. 

Rather than simply exchange more local currency for a replacement revenue guarantee for the Nestle conglomerate, he did what any self-respecting hacker would do and tried to fix it himself. Unfortunately he quickly found their cunningly oval shaped security screws to be more trouble than his time was worth. He listed his remaining coffee pods for free on craigslist and decided to toss the machine in the planned obsolescence receptacle which comes standard in any civilized home.

This is where our story would end were it not for the kindness of a fellow hacker. [Dave H] was browsing through craigslist when he spotted the sad tale. However, possessing a different skillset from [Chris], [Dave] had solved the particular oval shaped conundrum with a security screwdriver hand made from an old bolt. He answered his fellow hacker’s vaguely ardent plea and mailed the converted bolt over to [Chris]’s house.

With the proper tool in hand, [Chris] quickly discovered that all that was standing between him and his convenient coffee was a bit of schmoo between the cost cutting membrane switch and its mating pad on the circuit board. With the practically free repair complete, the machine happily vibrated back to life and produced coffee as if its planned obsolescence wasn’t for another few years. We assume a Nestle engineer was thrown into the pit on principle for this loss (they, of course, are evil enough to have a pit).

We’re not sure how the story proliferated through the internet, but we do know that it was inspirational to many convenient caffeine deprived hackers with similar problems. [Chris] found himself the hub in a network of circumnavigating security screw circumventing hackers.

[Dave]’s hacked bolt was the first to go on an adventure resulting in the repair of many machines before the postmen lost it under a cart, standard procedure. A replacement was purchased from an eBay seller for a hefty $40 american dollars and took up the journey where it left off. Others sent in guides on making the tool for those unwilling to wait for one to be shipped. In fact, even the maker of the $40 dollar tool weighed in on the issue. Apparently he was unaware that the consumer and commercial Nespresso machines used the same tools. A hacker himself, he ran a listing of the custom tool at a quarter of the price for the home repairman and another for the commercial appliance at the higher price.

The whole page is an entertaining read, for a certain kind of person, about appliance repair, reverse engineering, and camaraderie. Happily, the hub is still alive. If you find yourself with an oval screw which needs turning, get in touch with [Chris] and a strange community’s kindness will have a nomadic security bit crossing nations your way soon.

52 thoughts on “The Most Traveled Security Screwdriver, A Hacker’s Tale

    1. just do what inmates do in prison. Take a toothbrush handle, melt it with a scripto lighter and press the molten toothbrush handle down onto the fastener head. I worked in a prison. Security screws of all flavors were a small impediment for a determined inmate.

  1. C’mon guys. “$40 american dollars” is the equivalent of saying, “forty US dollars american dollars.”. The $ symbol means US dollars. Likewise, the “$40 dollar tool” line should be either, “$40 tool” or “40 USD tool” or even “40 dollar tool” if you’ve already made it clear that you’re talking about US dollars. Do these pieces go through an editor?

  2. Bring a tear to my eyes…. reminds me of the old days when things weren’t digital and the number 2600hrz meant something. Gawd I’m old! LOL!! (You young’ns go google it and learn something about where ‘hacking’ started)

  3. Dremel a slot into the head. I know that this one is a bit recessed, but the plastic won’t get in the way of the process. And, once completed, a simple screw driver will work from that point on.

  4. Touch the screw with a hot iron long enough to soften plastic, then it will come out with a needlenose or even a tweezers. Ether slot them or throw them out and replace.

  5. as an owner of a jura and someone who has had to purchase that tool, i can say this it is not $40 they are all over ebay for $10, i got mine for $8 forget from who exactly. Anyway verify it for yourself go to ebay and just search for jura tool or jura repair tool.

    on a side note these machines are poorly designed and made to fail unless you are someone who does not mind tearing them apart once or twice a year and doing a thorough cleaning.

  6. I care about my espresso and coffee drinks; but I can’t see the point of getting capsules when a superauto can grind real beans, fresh, that minute, and just as much as you need without making waste. the machine is more expensive but the coffee is cheap and that’s the consumable! why are people buying and supporting these bad business models?

    a superauto that grinds beans can be gotton for less than $500 as a refurb (seattle coffee is where I got mine; it was a 2nd from top model for $400 or so). I’ve had it nearly 3 years now and it has not needed anything other than owner-level cleaning. all parts come out and the brew group comes out. rinse under water, shake, let dry overnight. next day, insert back into machine and even when half asleep, its do-able. check out the saeco superautos and stop buying those stoopid pods!

    just a caution with superautos: no oily beans. you can’t buy the dark beans; have to use medium brown. the oil does harm the machine over time. I use just brown (not italian roast, etc) medium roast beans and for 3 years of ownership, no clogging or problems. its really a pleasure and the ability to buy whole-bean coffee where I want, when I want, more than makes up for the higher price of the unit. and so far, no service needed. no parts are that badly built that they are designed to fail (knock wood).

    1. wow, its cheaper now: here’s the exact one I have:

      https://www.seattlecoffeegear.com/saeco-syntia-stainless-steel-compact-espresso-machine-certified-refurbished

      that’s where I bought it, too. no connection, just a customer.

      I built my own from a fully manual (silvia) italian machine, added an arduino and my own code, enjoyed that for a bit, but it was fully manual and I did always grind more beans than I needed (not to mention, the grinder was huge and it steals too much counter space). once I tried that saeco, I put my own machine with my own code away and have not touched it for years. I created a nice PID system and display, etc; but the saeco just did a better job even though it was hard to admit their UI was way better than mine ;)

      $350 for a superauto that grinds fresh beans. I really don’t understand why people would support the pod based stuff. stale old coffee in pods from who-knows-where, really. blech! fresh ground is really easy, these days, and it makes all the difference in the world. if you don’t have a fresh grind, you have nothing good to start from.

      1. I also have a modded Silvia and a separate burr grinder (I was given a broken good one – I fixed it). That way you can grind any beans. You just have to clean out the grinder every so often if the beans are especially oily. I also roast my own beans using a modded popcorn popper. Roasting beans is quick and easy but, because of the husks flying around, it is best done outdoors. As green (unroast) beans are around half the price of roast beans and keep for a very long time, this is a great solution for someone who desn’t consume vast amounts of coffee. Sweet Marias is a great source for green beans. The popcorn mod is mainly about changing the temperature cutout to work at a higher temperature. I went one step further and added a variable speed fan but that is not required. That way you can have the freshest coffee at very low cost. Some home roasters say you should let the beans rest for 24 to 48 hours to let CO2 out but I found it is fine to brew immediately afer roasting and cooling the beans.

    2. I don’t have any experience with the Nespresso but there are companies that make reusable pods for the Keurig that have a filter a screen that you can put your own coffee into. Your machine sounds like a lot more work to maintain and much more expensive. Also, I like a good dark roast sometimes.

  7. Looks like the same screws used to hold together vacuum operated windshield wiper motors on cars from the 1950’s and older. Some vehicles used vacuum wipers (with electric as an upgrade option) into the early 1970’s. My folks had a 1971 Bronco that originally had vacuum wipers but dad got an electric setup from a junkyard.

    1. One nice thing about vacuum wipers – you know when you need to replace the fuel pump. Since WOT causes the vacuum to go away, the increased speed of a secondary airpump on the fuel pump makes up the difference. Or, when it fails, doesn’t. Nothing as fun as hitting the gas in a pouring rain trying to merge on the highway and the wipers stop. At least they never burn out, short out, or break something when they get jammed.

  8. Looks very similar to the screws used in old 9VAC Atari wall wart transformers, which I had a dozen or so given to me. (Made nice 12VDC supplies with simple FWB & Cap). I just took Dremel to a carbide bit and ground a workable profile. When I finally got around to buying a security bit set, the included applicable bit was very similar to the one I’d custom ground.

  9. So basically:
    “his coffee machine broke down, but was fitted with security screws that made – for him – the repair impossible. Luckily while telling his misfortune on Craiglist, he found someone who lend him the right tool to get his coffee machine fixed.”

    Gerrit, you should write horoscopes, not HaD articles.

    1. I, for one, enjoyed the story while drinking my morning coffee at work.
      Calm down Scrooge Mcrutigrem, one can always mutter about Gerrit when he writes an article about the next big thing since sliced bread. :)

  10. “…resulting in the repair of many machines before the postmen lost it under a cart, standard procedure.”

    That’s exactly what Nestle wants you to believe happened to it.

  11. Instamorph is a nice tool to have around the house for things like this. Just mold it around the screw and wait for it to harden. Then unscrew. Similar to the inmate toothbrush mentioned above but less messy.

  12. I like to grind nails into odd-shaped screwdrivers using my bench grinder. Depending on the shape I need pounding them on an anvil with a hammer can be good too. I prefer nails because they are usually easier to bend than screws are. Putting a bend in the ‘handle’ end of the nail gives you something to push against when you are turning it.

  13. These pod based coffee machines (the Keurig is the flagship, eh?) are the most blatant sign there is of a declining civilization. Just say no! Grind your own beans. You should expect the machine to be disposable, just like the pods. I walk by these in the store and shake my head and shed a tear.

    The business of coping with security screws though is totally what hackaday is all about!

  14. I have said it before. Get a Melita cone and filter papers. Place it under the empty pod holder, fill with water and push a button, Best coffee and cheap. I have a mid century art deco Kitchen Aid grinder to do the daily grind.

  15. when i encounter a screw i cant turn i have a number of things i usually try. if the screw heads are exposed i can get at it with a dremel and give it a slot for a flat edge driver. drilling out screws sometimes works. ive used screw extractors meant for broken or stripped screws on weird security screws with mixed results, but sometimes it workes.

    i had an expensive wireless mouse with dead keyswitches and an inaccessible screw. it was installed and then a pcb was installed on top of it on a big header and soldered into place. this made the keyswitch pads completely inaccessible. instead of trying to unsolder all those header pins. i just figured out where it screwed into the case and drilled it out from behind. this let me access the pads for the keyswitches and replace them. turns out the screw was not even needed to hold the contraption together. i cut the peg free of the screw and rattled it out of the pcb sandwich, then patched the hole with a gob of hot glue. i figure it was just used as a would be deterrence to future repair men.

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