The improbable story of this Janet Jackson song that crashed computers

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[EN VIDÉO] The first computer bug in history
Computer bugs are as old as the computer itself. The first bug in history dates back to…1947. Since then, malfunctions affecting our devices have been commonplace, and some have had disastrous consequences.

1989. Personal computing is still in its infancy and Internet still hasn’t landed in homes and businesses. On the music side, michael jackson is the ” King Of Pop », but it is his little sister, Janet, who creates the event with the album Rhythm Nation 1814a compendium of what was being done better and matter of R&B and new jack swing.

With millions of albums sold, Janet Jackson becomes a star, and it is she who is on the stage of the super-bowlfifteen years later, in 2004 to interpret Rhythm Nation. A performance that has remained in posterity because she had revealed a breast. It is also since this date that the show is broadcast with a slight delay…

This is the clip that was crashing laptops in 2005. © YouTube, Janet Jackson

A PC manufacturer gives the alert

What is the relationship with computers? After this performance, sales and downloads of Rhythm Nation explode, and engineers from a major manufacturer of computer cellphones discover that the clip of the Janet Jackson song is crashing some models! So says Raymond Chen, an engineer at Microsoftin a video posted on Twitter. ” A colleague of mine shared a product support story from Windows XP (released in 2001). A major computer manufacturer discovered that playing the music video for Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” crashed certain models of laptops. »

Alerted by this manufacturer, Microsoft engineers discovered that playing the music video also crashed laptops from other manufacturers. Points common to his computers: the presence ofan optical hard drive with platters that spin at 5,400 revolutions per minute. It was the standard at the time.

The mechanism of some optical hard drives was sensitive to the acoustic energy caused by the song.  © Dell

The cause ? Natural Resonant Frequencies

They also discover that playing the clip on a PC could also crash a laptop placed next to it! By what sleight of hand could this clip crash hard drives, even remotely? In fact, it turns out that the song contained one of natural resonant frequencies of the 5,400 RPM laptop hard drive model used by some manufacturers. This means that the oscillations caused by the music disturbed the mechanism of the trays.

At the time, the information did not leak out, but the manufacturer got around the problem by adding a sound filter which detects and suppresses frequencies harmful to the operation of the disc. Seventeen years later, and while there are only a handful of PCs designed in 2005, the bug is now entitled to its own line in the list of Windows flaws, even to the point of being considered as a tool for possible hacking.

under the code CVE-2022-38392we can read this: A type of 5400 RPM OEM hard drive, shipped with portable PCs around 2005, allows hackers who are physically close (to the computer) to cause a denied service (device malfunction and system failure) via frequency attack resonance with the audio cue from the “Rhythm Nation” music video. »

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