It may read like a tabloid headline, but it seems that Janet Jackson's 1989 song "Rhythm Nation" has the power to crash laptops, according to a blog post (opens in new tab) on Microsoft's devblogs - and a subsequent vulnerability has been raised on the CVE database, as noted by The Register.
The tale comes from a Microsoft devblog post (opens in new tab) by Raymond Chen, who recalls a story shared by a colleague from way back in the days of Windows XP - 2005 or so. It was noticed that playing the music video to "Rhythm Nation" - a moderate hit for Jackson, reaching number two in the Billboard Hot 100 and picking up a Grammy nomination for its production - over a laptop’s speakers would sometimes crash a different laptop placed nearby.
This was, as you might expect, very puzzling. Eventually, someone applied their massive brain to the problem and worked out that, rather than being a response from the laptop to the quality of the music, the tune contained the resonant frequency of the victim’s 5,400 RPM hard drive, so playing the song near it caused the platters to wobble, contact the drive head, and crash.
As you’ll no doubt remember from high school, resonant frequency is a property of a material that sees an increase in oscillation amplitude when a force is applied at that particular frequency that you wouldn’t see if the force was applied at any other frequency.
The susceptible laptops’ manufacturer responded to the problem by creating a custom digital filter in the audio system that stripped the frequencies, nullifying at least the problem of a Jackson-pumping laptop junking itself. The problem went away, as did 5,400 RPM hard drives in laptops.
Until, that is, Chen published the reminiscence on his blog, dated 16th August. This seems to have kicked something into gear, or possibly sent out a pulse of resonant frequencies, and caused a new addition (opens in new tab) to the register of Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures, dated 17th August. The vulnerability has been assigned a reference number, and received an acknowledgement from security vendor Tenable (opens in new tab).