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phr34kc0der

Hardware damage

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I know this question has been asked multiple times on multiple message boards and the like but i want your opinons on this. I was wondering if it was at all possible for software to destroy hardware. I read that back in the day the hdd could be damaged by trying to read past the end of the disk. I assume this doesnt work now. What about over heating? Obviously things like fan speeds can be controlled via software but wouldnt the bios shut the machine down before any permant damage was done?

Are there any example of attacks in the wild using techniques to destroy hardware on either Mac, Linux or Windows? I've never come across it and i assume if it was easy it would be quite common.

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While I personally don't know of any specific attack that can completely destroy hardware, there are ways to make it more or less unusable. Many pieces of hardware allow the OS to interact with the card's firmware (for updating purposes and such.) It is possible to do nasty things to the firmware and render that piece of hardware useless.

Also, I'm not sure if this was firmware related or what, but fairly recently they found out that a beta version of OpenSuSE was able to completely brick certain intel network cards. Articles can be found here, and here. There was also a talk at blackhat about planting rootkits into firmware\BIOS. If one is able to plant a rootkit there, I'm sure they could do even more malicious things if they wanted to. All of this being said, as far as I know, there aren't any... common I guess... attacks geared at destroying hardware.

And you're right about things such as changing fan speeds and such shutting down a machine. Once the machine detects a bad fan, extreme temperature, or even an abnormal amount of internal errors it will turn itself off to prevent damage. If however you have control of the firmware, then that of course is a whole other ballgame :)

Edited by mecca_
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It depends on what you mean by "software." On MS-DOS, this might be possible. However, userspace programs on a modern OS can only do what the driver says you can do. The driver won't allow you to do anything harmful to the hardware, or at least shouldn't allow you to. The devices themselves are smarter as well, and will protect themselves against errant drivers. It was never very possible, and nearly impossible on a modern OS.

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it is possible for software to ruin hardware, but is mostly caused by an engineering flaw in the devices firmware. A good example is when LM Sensors' hardware probes would corrupt the Atmel 24RF08 eeprom. From this it would probably be possible to design an application with the sole purpose to damage eeprom. Becuase the eeprom was corrupted it would not pass the BIOS CRC check, rendering the laptop unbootable until a the eeprom was replaced.

EDIT: anyone remember the original "are you a hacker quiz"? one question asked if you'd ever ruined hardware with software. The next question asked, "was it on purpose ?".

Edited by tekio
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