Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation music video from 1989 has been officially declared a security vulnerability because it freezes some models of hard drives on older computers.
Assigned to CVE-2022-38392, the vulnerability we’re talking about is a Denial of Service (DoS), specifically a side channel attack that causes hard drives of some 2005 laptop PCs to fail and crash. And it has to do with a physical phenomenon known as resonance that can take you back to your high school days.
Rhythm Nation’s frequency hits hard drives, hard
A broken record and “tape stop” are all too familiar terms for DJs and music lovers, but a song that crashes hard drives, you say? Now everyone would be blinded.
In a brief description, Microsoft blogger Raymond Chen revealed this week why playing a certain music video used to crash some laptops.
“A colleague of mine told a story about Windows XP product support. A major computer manufacturer discovered that playing the music video for Janet Jackson’s ‘Rhythm Nation’ would cause certain laptop models to crash,” Chen describes.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to be in the lab they should have set up to investigate this problem. No artistic judgment.”
Not only that, playing the music video was, according to Chen, even crashing laptops made by competitors.
Chen notes that researchers have discovered something even stranger:
“Playing the music video on one laptop caused a nearby laptop to crash, while the other laptop didn’t play the video!”
“It turned out that the song contained one of the natural resonance frequencies for the model of 5400 rpm laptop hard drives they and other manufacturers were using.”
Resonance is a physical phenomenon in which the sound produced by one object vibrates at the same frequency as the sound waves from another object. This can give rise to a larger amplitude.
This is how bridges have collapsed in the past, and also why soldiers march across a bridge.
Music video gets a CVE
It is official. Rhythm Nation has been considered a security vulnerability by MITER and has been assigned an identifier, CVE-2022-38392.
Though realistically, the security risk of playing the music video on modern equipment today would be virtually non-existent.
Even earlier, Chen explains, manufacturers solved this problem “by adding a custom filter to the audio pipeline that detected and removed the interfering frequencies during audio playback.”
So much hassle of a soundtrack!
And I’m sure they put a digital version of a ‘Do Not Remove’ sticker on that audio filter (although I’m concerned that in the many years since the workaround was added, no one remembers why it’s there. Hopefully their laptops don’t still carry this audio filter to protect against damage to a hard drive model they no longer use.),” the blogger scoffs.
In 2017, a security researcher named Alfredo Ortega demonstrated how playing a 130Hz tone can make an HDD nearly unresponsive to commands.
In the same year, Princeton and Purdue scientists published research explaining acoustic attacks on hard drives that could sabotage PCs, ATMs and CCTV systems.
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