strictly abstract - I'm curious

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Rivera42

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Is there a virus that can physically destroy a hard drive? Can that be done? I don't know what made me think of this, but I'm wondering.
 
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Hi Rivera42,

Good question!

Let's assume malware has penetrated a computer - but this malware has more than destruction of simply the data in mind (mere wiping the hard drive clean).

In order to accomplish physical destruction, a potential scenario might be something like taking control of the read/write arms and simulating a hard drive crash where the read/write arms are commanded to scratch the disk surface. In order to do this, the malware would have to invoke itself to replace the microcode internal to the hard drive and set in motion the commands for destruction.

Who would have the knowledge to do this? Any hard drive disk manufacturer engineer familiar with creating a microcode patch in the HD. Likely to happen - not very, unless they were paid a large amount of money to make it happen to a targeted computer.

So, in answer to your question, is there a virus that can physically destroy a hard drive - probably. The likelyhood of that virus getting into the wild on the Internet -- uncertain. Can it be done - yes.

A followup question is could such a physically damaged hard drive be recovered - to some degree probably with the appropriate tools at a very high cost - depends on the value of the data on the hard drive and how deep are the pockets of the owner of the hard drive.

-- Tom
 

Rivera42

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I wish I could remember where I saw it, but somewhere on the internet there is a web page detailing the exploits of security-minded users who attempted to render a hard drive unrecoverable. They did all sorts of things to it, immersion, explosion, you name it, and each time they declared the data would still be theoretically retrievable. Towards the end of what I'm starting to think might actually have been a TV program, these people determined that the only way to be truly certain the data on old hard drives could not be recovered, they had them melted down. If I remember correctly they plucked out porcelain caps from the molten mass. I think.

This was a data-security experiment, and throughout they decreed these damaged drives could still be mined by determined crooks.

It just makes me think that if it ever did happen, the drives could be saved, except I think you mentioned it costs too much to recover them.
 

calvin-c

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Basically correct. The closest a 'wild' virus comes to physically damaging a computer is, IIRC, the Chernobyl virus that overwrites certain BIOS programming. Probably all affected BIOS's have long since been updated, but at the time that virus came out it would render the computer non-bootable, including by a BIOS flash utility, so recovering basically required physically replacing the BIOS chip.

At that time I recall several discussions about viruses physically damaging computers & IIRC the most likely scenario was a theoretical virus that 'exercised' the PC to the point where it overheated. Again, advances have been made in thermal control so I doubt that such a virus, if it actually existed, would physically damage today's PC's.
 

Rivera42

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Another question, this time inspired by the interchangeability between laptops and smart phones, and in particular how each is a sort of backup for the other, or at least they can be, as needs may dictate. What you can't do online with one, you can do with the other, and as we relocate or experience connectivity issues, we alternate our dependencies by which devices have the strongest signal. If the Web's not there on wifi, it's there on our phones, and vice versa. So if your router or server goes down, you still have options.

What this made me wonder is, does the entire internet ever "go down?" Technologically speaking, can that even happen?
 
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Hi Rivera42,

If multiple nuclear explosions evenly distributed to explode at least 62 miles above the Earth around the globe results in a worldwide EM pulse - all electronic devices except those that are hardened against such an attack would be fried including the Internet save for some hardened connections that are protected (possibly the Military's resources - not public).

With regard to your original question, I recently read an article where the disk platters of one of the computers on the NASA shuttle that crashed in Feb 2003 were recovered and inserted into a new disk housing, and effectively none of the data was lost. Obviously, the condition of the disk platters is what matters most in recovery in order to recover the data.

-- Tom
 
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