In what might be this week’s strangest story, Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” music video is now a registered cybersecurity vulnerability (CVE-2022-38392). This is due to its ability to crash certain hard drive models manufactured during the year 2005.
The danceable security threat was brought to light by Raymond Chen, a respected developer who writes excellent blog posts for Microsoft. According to Chen, a colleague recently shared a story of “a major computer manufacturer” who found that “playing the music video for Janet Jackson’s ‘Rhythm Nation’ would crash certain models of laptops.”
While investigating the problem, the manufacturer found that “Rhythm Nation” also crashed laptops by their competitors. And here’s the weird thing; simply playing “Rhythm Nation” near a laptop could cause it to crash—this wasn’t a bug or a virus. It had something to do with the music.
Can you guess the problem? It turns out that “Rhythm Nation” contains a natural resonant frequency for a certain model of 4500 RPM hard drive. It’s like when an opera singer breaks a wine glass with their voice; affected hard drives vibrated like crazy when exposed to Janet’s socially-conscious 1989 hit.
As explained by Chen, manufacturers got around this problem by blocking certain frequencies from playing through their laptops’ speakers. And in case you’re wondering, the vulnerable 4500 RPM hard drives were only manufactured in 2005, and drives of this speed are no longer in use (not in modern systems, at least).
The Mitre Corporation added this vulnerability to its list of Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) after Chen published his blog post. It’s an outdated security threat, but still, it’s worth keeping on the record.