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.

Get Your Internet Out of My Things

2014 was the year that the Internet of Things (IoT) reached the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” on the Gartner Hype Cycle. By 2015, it had only moved a tiny bit, towards the “Trough of Disillusionment”. We’re going to try to push it over the edge.

emerging-tech-hc.png;wa0131df2b233dcd17Depending on whom you ask, the IoT seems to mean that whatever the thing is, it’s got a tiny computer inside with an Internet connection and is sending or receiving data autonomously. Put a computer in your toaster and hook it up to the Internet! Your thermostat? Hook it up to the Internet!? Yoga mat? Internet! Mattress pad? To the Intertubes!

Snark aside, to get you through the phase of inflated expectations and on down into disillusionment, we’re going to use just one word: “security”. (Are you disillusioned yet? We’re personally bummed out anytime anyone says “security”. It’s a lot like saying “taxes” or “dentist’s appointment”, in that it means that we’re going to have to do something unpleasant but necessary. It’s a reality-laden buzzkill.)

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Wax Motors Add Motion to Your Projects

[electronicsNmore] has uploaded a great teardown and tutorial video (YouTube link) about wax motors. Electric wax motors aren’t common in hobby electronics, but they are common in the appliance industry, which means the motors can be often be obtained cheaply or for free from discarded appliances. Non-electric wax motors have been used as automotive coolant thermostats for years.  Who knows, this may be just what the doctor ordered for your next project.

As [electronicsNmore] explains, wax motors are rather simple devices. A small block of wax is sealed in a metal container with a movable piston. When heated, the wax expands and pushes the piston out. Once the wax cools, a spring helps to pull the piston back in.

The real trick is creating a motor which will heat up without cooking itself. This is done with a Positive Temperature Coefficient (PTC) thermistor. As the name implies, a PTC thermistor’s resistance increases as it heats up. This is the exact opposite of the Negative Temperature Coefficient (NTC) thermistors we often use as temperature sensors. PTC’s are often found in places like power supplies to limit in rush current, or small heating systems, as we have in our wax motor.

As the PTC heats up, its resistance increases until it stops heating. At the same time, the wax is being warmed, which drives out the piston. As you might expect, wax motors aren’t exactly efficient devices. The motor in  [electronicsNmore’s] video runs on 120 volts AC. They do have some advantages over solenoid, though. Wax motors provide smooth, slow operation. Since they are resistive devices, they also don’t require flyback diodes, or create the RF noise that a solenoid would.

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Ask Hackaday: Can you Hack an Appliance into a Spy Device?


A story surfaced a few days before Halloween on Russian news site Rosbalt (yep, that’s in Russian), claiming Russian authorities intercepted Chinese-made electric irons and kettles: each equipped with microphones and WiFi. You can read a summary in English on the BBC’s website. The “threat” imposed by these “spy appliances” is likely the result of gross exaggeration if not downright fear mongering against Chinese-made products. It’s not worth our (or your) effort to speculate on what’s really happening here, but the situation does present a fun exercise.

Say you wanted to spice up your pen testing by altering a small home appliance: how easily could you build it? Let us know in the comments which appliance would serve as the best “host” for the modifications and what features you would include. Could you manage all the components listed in the article–a microphone, WiFi (any chance of cracking unsecured networks?), plus some vague indication that it “spreads viruses?” There’s a video below with a few glimpses of the electronics in question, but unless you speak Russian it probably won’t offer much insight.

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Electric clothes drier repair heats things up


[How To Lou] sure has shown us how to do quite a few things. This time he’s dealing with an electric clothes dryer that won’t heat. We’ve been elbow deep in our own appliances and we think [Lou’s] matter-of-fact demonstration will help you gain the confidence to investigate problems before deciding if it’s a job to be relegated to the repair man.

This picture shows the back side of a clothes dryer after having a protective panel removed. Just out of frame is a functional schematic which lists each part and it’s resistance measurement. Lou has labelled those parts in this image to help us understand what we’re looking at. In the video after the break he begins doing the same troubleshooting that a repair would use. He grabbed his multimeter and used it to test the resistance of each component after removing the wires from it. All of them should read zero Ohms except for the heater coil which the schematic rates at 7.8-11.8 Ohms. The high limit thermostat is loose and measures an infinite resistance. This, coupled with the charred wire on one side is the culprit. As with that ice maker repair from yesterday, [Lou] searches for the numbers on the part to find the replacement he needs.

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Hey OEMs, Arduino controlled dishwasher has much potential

I think we can all agree that sometimes projects are a bit of a stretch. We rack our brains for something interesting and unique to bring to the table and end up stretching for that special strange twist trick or technique that will garner that special kind of admiration from our peers. In that sense it is easy to loose sight of some of the best projects, the simple ones that prove you can fix anything anytime anywhere and improve it while you are at it.

This is just such that kind of project, [UnaClocker] had a washer fall victim to its own condensation. Instead of shelling out a ton of money for the repair man he took on the job himself, fitting the washer with an Arduino, relays and a breadboard. A little reverse engineering revealed the (notably well labeled) control board, evidently the control signals involved are extremely easy to interpret. [UnaClocker] also found a temperature sensor to control dish sanitation. At this point he had FULL CONTROL over the dishwasher and was able to design the ideal prewash/wash cycle timings.

Now that a wash cycle is all set [UnaClocker] can now go ahead and embarrass the hell out of the OEM. He plans on adding a real time clock module to time washings and a clean dish indicator, after which we think he should get rolling on some wireless/tweet/ethernet/capacitive touch/voice communication. After that he is going to work on buttoning up the design and making it pretty.

Check out the setup in action after the jump!

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