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Janet Jackson's 'Rhythm Nation' Crashes Hard Drives

Stock image of Janet Jackson
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

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).

Ian Evenden
Freelance News Writer

Ian Evenden is a UK-based news writer for Tom’s Hardware US. He’ll write about anything, but stories about Raspberry Pi and DIY robots seem to find their way to him.

  • Colif
    SSD are safe from her it seems. So if laptop is solid state, you could play song as much as you like before people tell you to go away or stop.
    Reply
  • escksu
    I don't think there are laptops using HDD these days ...
    Reply
  • Colif
    Not many new ones anyway. Sure there are old ones running it.

    Its a problem that is more likely to have caused issues 30 years ago, when peoples PC randomly crash while someone plays that song, but its chances of happening have decreased as time passed.
    Reply
  • einheriar
    Awesome does it work with 3½ " 5400 rpm drives? My NAS runs with WD red plus drives.
    Reply
  • digitalgriffin
    einheriar said:
    Awesome does it work with 3½ " 5400 rpm drives? My NAS runs with WD red plus drives.

    I would imagine so. There are plenty 5400 spinners out there, including cheaper laptops. But to be honest, the head distance is so close these days it might not effect it. They practically ride on the surface using ground effect forces. Today's drives even auto recalibrate from people walking in the room. (I isolate mine on rubber and felt feet.)


    Admin said:
    A bizarre situation in which a Janet Jackson music video can crash a laptop has gained official recognition.

    Janet Jackson's 'Rhythm Nation' Crashes Hard Drives : Read more

    Talk about a killer beat!
    Reply
  • shady28
    Would like to see this played in a big data center.
    Reply
  • edzieba
    If you work in a datacentre, don't set your phone ringtone to a mix of 5.4kHz and 7.2kHz sine waves, unless you want to find yourself busy replacing more drives than usual!
    Or a very annoying day if your server's array crashes because the server next to yours in the COLO got pwned and the fans set to 7.2kRPM and the speaker set to squeal at 7.2kHz.

    I wonder if a Janet Jackson concert could be correlated with drive failures in the surrounding area?
    Reply
  • JeffreyP55
    edzieba said:
    If you work in a datacentre, don't set your phone ringtone to a mix of 5.4kHz and 7.2kHz sine waves, unless you want to find yourself busy replacing more drives than usual!
    Or a very annoying day if your server's array crashes because the server next to yours in the COLO got pwned and the fans set to 7.2kRPM and the speaker set to squeal at 7.2kHz.

    I wonder if a Janet Jackson concert could be correlated with drive failures in the surrounding area?
    LoL. 5400 drives killed Janet Jackson. Stream it or buy the audio. Ripped my JJ CD to .flac.
    Reply
  • Wrss
    einheriar said:
    Awesome does it work with 3½ " 5400 rpm drives? My NAS runs with WD red plus drives.
    No, different platter size means different resonant frequency and ostensibly you'd be playing it with different speakers. The anecdote is of a specific laptop model's speakers playing that song.
    Reply
  • Wrss
    edzieba said:
    If you work in a datacentre, don't set your phone ringtone to a mix of 5.4kHz and 7.2kHz sine waves, unless you want to find yourself busy replacing more drives than usual!
    Or a very annoying day if your server's array crashes because the server next to yours in the COLO got pwned and the fans set to 7.2kRPM and the speaker set to squeal at 7.2kHz.

    I wonder if a Janet Jackson concert could be correlated with drive failures in the surrounding area?
    That is totally wrong, lol. Drives spin at 5400 and 7200 revolutions per minute, not per second. A tone at 5.4kHz is 5400 cycles per second. And in any case, the spin rate is not the platter resonant frequency, or else the drive would crash itself in regular operation.
    Reply