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Janet Jackson's music video deemed cybersecurity risk after crashing old laptops

"Rhythm Nation" did not only crash the laptop playing the song but also a nearby one that was not. It's all because of the way it sounds.

"A major computer manufacturer discovered that playing the music video for Janet Jackson's 'Rhythm Nation' would crash certain models of laptops," Microsoft's principal software engineer Raymond Chen wrote in a blog.

While the story Chen shared is light on specifics, the bug apparently affected multiple Windows XP computers by other manufacturers as well. All of them – even those that did not play the song – crashed when "Rhythm Nation" was on.

Further investigation revealed the problem was in the sound. It exclusively affected laptops that shared the same 5400 rpm hard disk drive.

"It turns out that the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the model of 5400 rpm laptop hard drives that they and other manufacturers used," Chen said.

While few modern computers run on hard disk drives, especially that slow, the "Rhythm Nation" was still considered to be enough of a cybersecurity risk to be included in the Mitre Corporation's list of Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures after Microsoft reported the problem.

According to Chen, the manufacturer found a way to work around the issue by customizing an audio filter that detected and removed the disagreeable frequencies before they came out of the speaker.

To illustrate how sensitive hard drives can be to certain vibrations, Chen linked to a video showing data center engineers disrupting computers just by shouting at them. And to show how dangerous natural resonant frequencies can be in the wrong circumstances, he referenced the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940.

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