Janet Jackson Song Killed Hard Drives on Old Laptops

Janet Jackson song

Microsoft specialist Raymond Chen shared an interesting story from the Windows XP era on the blog: the music video for Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” negatively affects some 5400 rpm hard drives, causing their malfunction.

Raymond Chen
Raymond Chen
A colleague shared with me a story about product support on Windows XP. [Then] a major computer manufacturer discovered that playing Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” music video was causing some laptop models to crash. I wouldn’t want to be in the lab they probably set up to study this problem.Chen says.

Let me remind you that we also talked about a curios fact when it turned out that: Cellmate men’s chastity belts are vulnerable to attacks and dangerous for users.

As the unnamed manufacturer’s engineers found out, playing the music video had a negative effect not only on the machine where the clip was played. Failures occurred even on competitor laptops that simply stood nearby.

It turned out that the solution was simple: the culprit for these failures was the usual resonance that the composition “Rhythm Nation” caused in hard drives with a rotation speed of 5400 rpm (such models were then used by many manufacturers).

If anyone still thinks that Chen’s story sounds like a funny and not too plausible story, I will note that everything is official: the music video for “Rhythm Nation” was indeed recognized as a security issue, and now MITER has assigned it the identifier CVE-2022-38392, although clip is unlikely to pose a threat to modern equipment.

In the past, this problem was solved in a very radical way. According to Chen, the manufacturers created “a special filter that detects and removes unwanted frequencies during audio playback” to avoid resonance.

“I’m sure they put a digital version of the Do Not Remove sticker on this audio filter. Although I’m afraid that in the years that have passed since the introduction of this trick, everyone has already forgotten why it was there. Hopefully now their laptops no longer contain this audio filter, which is necessary to protect against damage to a hard drive that they no longer use,” Chen says ironically.

It must be said that the danger of resonance for HDDs is a fairly well-known topic, and not only old models of laptops from unnamed manufacturers suffered from this problem. Information security specialists have repeatedly studied the vector of the so-called “acoustic attacks”. It has long been known that properly selected sound waves can cause the hard drives to vibrate, and if the sound is broadcast at a certain frequency, a resonance occurs, which only amplifies the vibration.

Perhaps the most famous example of hard drives being sensitive to ambient sounds is a video recorded by researcher Brandon Gregg back in 2008. In the video, the specialist demonstrates why you should not shout in the data centre and explains that even raising your voice can lead to a failure.

You can also recall that in 2017, the Argentine specialist Alfredo Ortega demonstrated the HDD Killer attack, which, using sound at a frequency of 130 Hz, made the hard drive stop responding to OS requests.

If we are not talking about laboratory studies, but about real examples, we can recall the incident that occurred in 2018 in the Swedish data centre Digiplex, which is responsible for Nasdaq operations in Northern Europe. Then, due to the extremely loud work of the fire extinguishing system, the hard drives on which the services of Nasdaq and the Finnish banks FIM Bank and OP Bank Group were hosted were damaged.

By Vladimir Krasnogolovy

Vladimir is a technical specialist who loves giving qualified advices and tips on GridinSoft's products. He's available 24/7 to assist you in any question regarding internet security.

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