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Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” Can Crash Some Hard Drives

August 23, 2022

Great music can change the world — and, apparently, crash some hard drives.

A recent report published by Microsoft showcases a novel issue with older laptop hard drives. Here’s the full text of the report from the National Vulnerability Database (NVD), CVE-2022-38392

A certain 5400 RPM OEM hard drive, as shipped with laptop PCs in approximately 2005, allows physically proximate attackers to cause a denial of service (device malfunction and system crash) via a resonant-frequency attack with the audio signal from the Rhythm Nation music video.

That music video, which has been viewed about 28 million times on YouTube, features pop singer Janet Jackson dancing in a futuristic warehouse.  We’ve linked the Rhythm Nation video here, but you may not want to click that link if you’re running an older laptop.

According to Microsoft’s aymond Chen, “the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the model of 5400 RPM laptop drives that [Microsoft] and other manufacturers used.”

Chen says that this isn’t a hypothetical concern: Multiple users reported hard drive crashes that are attributable to the vulnerability, which led Windows XP’s support team to report the concern to the manufacturer (the manufacturer is unnamed in both the report and in Chen’s blog). 

After discovering the issue in 2005, the manufacturer addressed the issue.

To block the resonant frequency from damaging hard drive components, the OEM added a “custom filter in the audio pipeline,” which removed the offending frequencies. In other words, if you’re running a laptop that was manufactured after 2005, you can watch the Rhythm Nation video without worrying about the bad vibrations (and the song has plenty of good vibrations, in our professional opinion). 

So, why was this ever an issue? As we’ve discussed on this blog, hard drive actuator heads rely on extreme precision to operate. The heads float on a tiny cushion of air over the magnetic platters, which store your data.

The resonant frequency of a material is the natural frequency that causes the material to vibrate at its highest amplitude. If you’ve ever seen a video of an opera singer shattering glass with her voice, you’ve seen the potential power of resonance.

However, hard drive platters aren’t made of the same materials as drinking glasses — while some platters are manufactured with glass, others use aluminum alloys (or even ceramic substrates, although this is less common in modern hardware). 

The frequencies from Rhythm Nation can’t shatter hard drive platters, but they can cause enough of a disturbance to cause a head crash. We doubt that Janet Jackson (Miss Jackson, if you’re nasty) intentionally created the song with this effect in mind.

To avoid “nasty” data loss, back up your hard drive frequently.

As always, the recent report is a great reminder to review your backup strategy. If files are important, keep at least two copies, including one located on the cloud or a separate physical device. 

And if you’ve lost data due to a head crash, accidental file deletion, or a late-night Janet Jackson binge, we’re here to help. Call 1-800-237-4200 to set up a case or schedule a free hard drive evaluation by filling out our online form. 

With state-of-the-art laboratories and a comprehensive no data, no charge guarantee, provides resources to help you recover from data loss — and yes, we do it all for you.