DRM Protection Removed for… Coffee?

Keurig, the manufacturer of a single-serve coffee brewing system, has a very wide following amongst coffee drinkers. Their K-cup (pre-packaged coffee grounds with a coffee filter, all in a plastic container) is an interesting concept and makes brewing a single cup of coffee much more efficient over making a whole pot. Their newer line of coffee makers, the Keurig 2.0, has some interesting (and annoying) security features though, which [Kate Gray] has found an interesting and simple way around.

The DRM security in these coffee makers is intended to keep third-party “cups” from being used in the Keurig. It can recognize an authentic Keurig cup, and can stop the operation of the coffee pot if a knockoff is placed in the machine. We can only assume that this is because Keurig makes a heap of cash by selling its canisters of coffee. One simple solution was already covered a few days ago by taping an authentic lid to the machine. This one doesn’t require any authentic pods but just removes one wire from a wiring harness inside of the case.

There are other ways around the security on these devices, but when [Kate Gray] actually investigated, she found the security decidedly lacking. With something this simple, one can only speculate how much Keurig has really invested in making sure users don’t use third-party cups of coffee in their machines, but it also brings up the classic question of who really owns hardware if we can’t use it in the way we want, rather than the way the manufacturer wants.

You can read more about the project on its Reddit page. Thanks to [MyOwnDemon] for the tip!

73 thoughts on “DRM Protection Removed for… Coffee?

  1. I have a well featured “Original” Keurig with zero hassles… two pricks in the container and BAM!
    coffee! I actually use it for hot water for tea, too! (flip lever up/down).

    Why on earth would a reputable company try to minimize their customer satisfaction?
    …Beauler?

        1. That and “C-suite” management are too arrogant to think that the Betamax lesson (“Lock down the technology and people will continue to buy it because of brand-name over more open-source competitors”) applies to them. VHS anybody? Anybody? Bueller…?

          There are already coffee makers that will take anybody’s pods, and Keurig is not willing/able to change their business model.

      1. Yes, different. The other one spoofs the sensor. This one is the same as “declawing” a Cue:Cat barcode scanner. Clip one connection and *poof* the lame protection or obfuscation goes away.

    1. i think its maybe just the editing thats bothering, unless you really need filler, why re-explain the company and the drm, something simpler could have been written, ‘as previously covered(link), company has drm in place, here is another workaround’

      1. Right, this was my point. It’s an even easier version of the same hack that was featured a week ago. Clip a wire instead of spoofing a lid. It’s just that the write up is presented as though [HaD] hadn’t just covered a Keurig hack. Especially given that there was no in-link to the [HaD] post from a week ago, I’m betting that the author didn’t realize the “other” Keurig hack had even been featured last week.

    1. The thing these lawsuits have in common is they target business practices, marketing and claims that Keurig are making. Actually if you look at the lawsuits one of them is about false advertising that only Keurig pods work in Keurig machines. In many ways this is the resolution of that lawsuit.

      You can’t win a suit against a company for locking in consumables to their product. This is common business practice for many devices in many industries all over the world, the best example being printer ink.

    2. These claims/civil suits are filed in the states. To the people in the class, it is a way of sending the company a message and may be some win-fall. The plaintive lawyers think that they might have a thin chance of recouping their up front work for a large percentage of the settlement. Whether or not they have any merits doesn’t matter a whole lot. To the company, they are out the time/money to fight the law suits.

      Now the law suit(s) in Canada means a bit different thing (liked under CBC.CA link) as they run under a loser-pays system in the court. If there are no merits or chance of winning, then they are running a risk of having to pay for the defendant’s legal expenses.

  2. Look, I realize people apparently love to use the “DRM” in an extremely broad manner, but I wish at the very least that people smarter, like Hack-A-Day, wouldn’t. This is not a Digital Rights Management system, there are no digital certs associated between the coffee maker and the pods, and I don’t think DMCA will apply. It’s a physical lockout. Sort of like the keys on your house, maybe? You wouldn’t call that DRM. Or at least I hope not.

    grump off

      1. Using your definition, the safety lock on my clothes washer is DRM. I can’t use the clothes washer until I close the lid, therefore the safety lock is preventing me from having full functionality. Or

        1. my machine had one of those, i disabled it so i could validate its functionality. turns out it doesn’t like to use water on any of the rise cycles except the one for the “light casual” mode. i hate it when companies use locks like this to hide obvious design flaws.

    1. I totally agree with you. All they have for protection is a UV Ink label, so at most they have copyright to protect which only really commercially covers them for whatever they UV printed right? It really just seems like they ripped off Tassimo’s idea and instead of using a visible barcode they’re using UV bar code of some kind like QR. Anyone care to take some pics of the UV Print and post it on the interbutts for us all to explore? :D

      http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/keurig-s-coffee-supremacy-challenged-by-canadian-firm-1.2787075

    2. I used the term DRM in the original video because that’s what people have been calling it. It’s more “Digital Management of Rights” than “Management of Digital Rights”.

      It’s still a form of electronic copy protection.

    1. I think along the lines of your question is the question “does it JUST detect legit/not OR does it also adjust things like pressure and/or temp based on that detection?” and if it does more than just a legit check, capture the possibilities and spoof with an pic/arduino/pi/etc…

      1. I had a cow-orker that used a French Press. Every now and then we’d see this groady “thing” left in the sink in the coffee area to soak for long periods. I don’t care much for coffee, and this sight made it less desirable.

    1. i have a feeling that the cups use less plastic than one of those plastic coffee cans does. its thinner and has much less surface area. its like those people who like to recycle plastic grocery bags, its not really that much material. i recycle mine though, as garbage bags.

  3. A coffee pod costs a lot more than one spoon of ground coffee but it’s the same thing (plus chemicals to make it last longer in the pod). In other words not only you pay more for an inferior and less healthy product but also get screwed by their DRM.
    So, to remove the problem from start, chose to get get better coffee and never ever buy a coffee machine that does not accept ground coffee.

    1. Both coffee beans and ground coffee have a certain shelf-life and that is with either vacuum packing or using a protective atmosphere. As soon as the container is opened the quality degrades relatively rapidly, ground coffee faster than beans and both faster in room temperature than if stored cold.

      Using a pod machine breaks the seal of the capsule just before brewing making sure that the coffee is fresh. Therefore if one likes good coffee once in a while a pod machine makes more sense, if one is a huge consumer of coffee it may not.

      But if one just want the caffeine and don’t care about the taste buying large quantities of ground coffee and storing it in room temperature may be the cheapest route.

      1. you assume a protective atmosphere in those pods… somehow I doubt Keurig, et al care a whit about such things. No matter how you slice it, it’s horribly wasteful and ridiculously overpriced. I almost wonder if most of these products are created as corporate jokes (“gee, this one’s pretty far out, you think we can spin it enough to get people to buy into it?”) just to assess the average consumer stupidity level. I wonder what, if anything, could ever break that absurdity barrier at this point…

      2. I bought the replaceable metal filter cups for mine, and grind the beans every two days for my morning joe. Haven’t ever bought pods and only used the demo ones in the box for the two keurigs I’ve owned over the last 4 years.

    2. My Keurig takes regular coffee grounds every morning. It’s heated and ready to go when I get ready to leave for work every morning. I’ve yet to see a french press that has a timer.

    3. No, I prefer a coffee machine that does NOT accept ground coffee. it requires unground coffee. I prefer coffee from freshly ground beans.
      Never buy a coffee machine which can not grind the coffee if you want a cup. :-) But really never ever buy a machine which needs proprietary coffee capsules like Keurig or Nespresso.

  4. If I was to guess I would wager that the reason this works is because the 2.0 was designed to fail gracefully. So when it can’t read the sensor it just defaults to accept any K-cup. That way not only do they not have a bunch of angry people and more bad PR about their machines not reading their own cups but by the time the sensor has failed people have long since been conditioned not to even bother trying other K-cups.

    Between this and the menu hack I’m really almost tempted to pick up a 2.0

    1. “the 2.0 was designed to fail gracefully.”

      If you disconnect the sensor, interfere with the i2c lines, or the blue wire (which returns the sensor data, as far as I can tell), it will fail on all cups.

      The system is fail-secure, which is odd. I noticed that the wire was always kept at logic low, so I disconnected it to reduce the number of inputs. Imagine my surprise when it started working.

      1. My guess is that it’s somehow a 2 in 1 sensor, and the “cup present” part fails secure. My guess is that the green wire is some sort of analog signal/reference voltage. Floating it causes the “legit cup” part of the sensor to read true.

      2. Whelp so much for that theory. Guess it was a little naive to assume that somewhere in the design process for the 2.0 something might have accidentally gone right :P

        I wonder if was something left over from testing/design. Something that would be easy to access in house but the average consumer would never question. Maybe it’s something the sensor is using that line for some sort of calibration/reference and pulling that dumps it out of UV and back into the normal spectrum. Now I’m really curious to know what is in the mystery sensor and what (apparently very important) task that wire was preforming.

        In any case thank you very much for not being the average consumer :)

  5. Having repaired several Keurig machines, I have little good to say about them. Not only is the cost per cup of coffee obscenely high, but the amount of waste packaging is awful (the used cups are not recycleable).

    There are many online blogs documenting the difficulty in disassembly these machines (hidden screws, but also one-time snap together parts that cannot be de-mated). People literally use hack saws to cut them apart, or soldring irons and drill bits to access sealed screws.

    Worst though it the poor choice of components. The key solenoid used to channel the water, was designed for AIR use, not WATER. Manufacturer datasheet indicated a typical application as the adjustible air cushion in automotive seating. Consequently after a little use in the wet coffee maker enfironment, the solenoid valves corrode and either stick (always open or always closed). Eventually they leak, and pretty much ruin the machine. A later design added a SECOND solenoid valve to mitigate the problems with a single valve. The two valve system intruduced as many problems as it solved. To make matters worse, the valves are strategically located above the power transformer, so when they valves leak, the water drips into the AC mains transformer. Ther are entire diagnosic charts inticiating which pump motor or solenoid valve, or seal is the likely culprit depending on the location of the leak or machine malfunction.

    These products are like the B40, B60, B70 series. Just one mistake after another. Basically al the designs that use a water reservoir tank. The exception being the low end mini model B30. This design has the user dump a single mugs of water into the machine, and because it avoids all the tanks and valves, it likewise avoids the leaks and corrosions and shorts of the more sophisicated designs.

    All the machines have problems with mineral deposits from hard water. The high end machines are more trouble to mitigate the hard water deposits.

    One thing positive about Keurig is that they seem to honor their warranty, and will often send you a new machine onces the old one starts leaking…as long as the serial number indicates that the machine has not already been replaced.

    So if you really hate someone, buy them a Keurig for Christmas!

  6. Having repaired several Keurig machines, I have little good to say about them. Not only is the cost per cup of coffee obscenely high, but the amount of waste packaging is awful (the used cups are not recycleable).

    There are many online blogs documenting the difficulty in disassembly these machines (hidden screws, but also one-time snap together parts that cannot be de-mated). People literally use hack saws to cut them apart, or soldring irons and drill bits to access sealed screws.

    Worst though it the poor choice of components. The key solenoid used to channel the water, was designed for AIR use, not WATER. Manufacturer datasheet indicated a typical application as the adjustible air cushion in automotive seating. Consequently after a little use in the wet coffee maker enfironment, the solenoid valves corrode and either stick (always open or always closed). Eventually they leak, and pretty much ruin the machine. A later design added a SECOND solenoid valve to mitigate the problems with a single valve. The two valve system intruduced as many problems as it solved. To make matters worse, the valves are strategically located above the power transformer, so when they valves leak, the water drips into the AC mains transformer. There are entire diagnosic charts inticiating which pump motor or solenoid valve, or seal is the likely culprit depending on the location of the leak or machine malfunction.

    These products are like the B40, B60, B70 series. Just one mistake after another. Basically all the designs that use a water reservoir tank. The exception being the low end mini model B30. This design has the user dump a single mug of water into the machine, and because it avoids all the tanks and valves, it likewise avoids the leaks and corrosions and shorts of the more sophisicated designs.

    All the machines have problems with mineral deposits from hard water. The high end machines are more trouble to mitigate the hard water deposits.

    One thing positive about Keurig is that they seem to honor their warranty, and will often send you a new machine once the old one starts leaking…as long as the serial number indicates that the machine has not already been replaced.

    So if you really hate someone, buy them a Keurig for Christmas!

    1. Agreed. It tastes like the goo from Speedway or MickeyD’s with a bunch of flavoring dried creamer thrown in aka “video editing lab breakfast” lol. To each their own I guess. We use a traditional one with the only upgrade being that the power button is now above the hot plate so that it doesn’t get drowned in coffee and fry itself again.

      Good on Kate for figuring this out. I will probably have to do this hack on some family members’ Keurigs during the xmas vacation to save everyone some money and frustration. Good find :)

  7. damn. bad enough the new system went to larger pods (so my refillable, use-my-own-beans pods won’t fit) but they pulled a “HP” on the things too? Only reason I wanted one was the new “fill a carafe” ability for when you have guests and I don’t wanna run to the storage unit to dig out the percolator.

    Looks like I’ll wait a lot longer to change out my “v1” keurig then

  8. Is there an easier way to access the green wire? I started removing covers on a new K550 last night, but gave up when I couldn’t figure out how to get the left side panel off to access the wiring harness.

    It seems like there should be a way to access the green wire through the brew assembly where the sensor is located.

  9. I have a challenge: hack the keurig k300/350 so that it has the same ‘extra’ software features found in the more expensive k400/450 & k500/550 models. Im not sure if they use the same boards or not but if there is a way to somehow manipulate the software to unlock those extra features, myself and im sure thousands of other k350 owners out there would take advantage of having those extra features (favorites ability, color touchscreen, digital clock, customizable colors/backgrounds, etc…) available in the barebones machine.

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