17

Like damaging a chip on the motherboard, increase the fan's speed till something explodes, or anything similar to that. I am not an IT guru, but I never came across a malicious code that couldn't be erased using a certain software, nor a virus that caused something beyond corrupting the OS.

  • 1
    I have already checked this question prior to posting this one, the whole discussion is about corrupting the firmware of a hard drive, that's not what I am referring to – Ulkoma Aug 11 '14 at 18:25
  • 1
    I don't know how far down you read, but several of the answers specifically discuss causing failure by inducing excessive read/write operations. – Xander Aug 11 '14 at 18:27
  • 2
    The top answer to this shows that it definitely was not a duplicate of the question about hard drives. I got here wondering if a virus could start my computer on fire. – Noumenon Jun 30 '16 at 23:27
  • hypothetically it would be possible to overwrite the firmware and cause one or more of the components to go into a Thermal Runaway en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_runaway ... however there are multiple systems in place to protect against this (though most are aimed at protection against manufacturer defect) – CaffeineAddiction Jul 5 '16 at 21:28
  • 1
    I wonder if it would be possible to brick a computer by overwriting /dev/nvram over and over, since modern computers usually map that to flash memory and not true RAM. With UEFI systems that store variables in the NVRAM, I imagine damaging it would be fatal. – forest Dec 2 '18 at 6:52
15

In older times, virus could be damaging to the hardware in the following way:

  • Playing with video signal rates, so as to exceed the tolerance ranges of CRT monitors. Post-1995 CRT monitors included safety mechanisms (and LCD panels are inherently protected), but older monitors have died that way.

  • Reflashing the BIOS. This does not permanently kill the hardware, but resurrecting it can be hard; e.g. some motherboards can be reflashed after such a junk flashing only by reading the BIOS from... a floppy disk. Who has a floppy disk nowadays ?

  • Causing overheating by blocking fans. This works only when the fan speed is controlled from the motherboard itself. However, hardware which allows for a variable fan rotation speed also includes thermometers, and safety circuits which forcibly cut off power in case of overheating, before permanent damage occurs.

    Though I know of a motherboard that did melt an ethernet card once (the chip turned completely black and the plastic partially collapsed). Strangely enough, the motherboard was fine afterwards.

  • Laptop batteries can be permanently damaged from software.

However, wanton destruction is often deemed useless by virus writers, who now prefer silently installation and remote control. Modern virus try hard not to damage the computer.

  • 1
    "Modern virus Try hard not to damage the computer" is a fact. Modern cybercriminal follow the same religion. But the possibilities of physical damages are nonetheless much larger than at the era of CRT monitors. Safety mechanisms are… firmware or software and can be reprogrammed. – dan Aug 11 '14 at 20:43
  • 3
    See also Stuxnet - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuxnet – CaffeineAddiction Jul 5 '16 at 21:06
  • 1
    See also Win95.CIH (a.k.a. Chernobyl) - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIH_(computer_virus) – CaffeineAddiction Jul 5 '16 at 21:17
  • Hard Drive Killer? – Kolob Canyon Oct 3 '17 at 19:13
  • Many BIOSes store a recovery copy in the read-only boot block for rollback. – forest Dec 2 '18 at 6:53
6

For the typical modern computer, the answer is "no".

There are exceptions, though. Probably the most effective attack would be to turn off the computer's cooling system, run the CPU at full load, and hope something burns out before the computer's thermal protection system shuts it down. Fast-reacting shutdown systems have been standard for about a decade, though, and it's unlikely to work. Alternatively, the virus could drive the CPU, GPU, and memory at maximum and hope the system was built with an undersized power supply -- cheap power supplies have been known to explode or catch fire when overloaded.

A virus could try to wear out a solid-state drive by repeatedly over-writing it, but wear leveling in modern drives is a highly effective countermeasure: it would take tens or hundreds of terabytes of writing, over the course of months or years, to cause the drive to fail.

Older systems are a very different matter. For example, monitors made before the mid-1990s typically didn't have protection against being driven at the wrong refresh rate. Overdriving (or underdriving) the scan circuits could cause them to burn out. Going back further, hard drives in the 80s and earlier didn't park the heads automatically. A virus that intercepted the "park" command could cause a head crash at power-down. Some floppy drives didn't have adequate protection against out-of-range head seeks; a virus that moved the drive head enough could cause permanent misalignment.

4

Haven't you heard?!

enter image description here

But in all seriousness, yes malware can cause physical damage to your computer. Perhaps the most notable instance of this is Stuxnet which caused the centrifuges of nuclear centers in Iran to spin at a rapid pace, while informing operators that the were functioning at normal speeds.

  • 2
    Big difference between a virus exploiting the peripherals connected to your PC and a virus that can physically harm your computer's components – Ulkoma Aug 11 '14 at 18:27
  • 2
    @Ulkoma But both are covered by your question. Nowhere do you scope it specifically to the affected computer's internal components. – Xander Aug 11 '14 at 18:29
2

While some of you are somewhat correct in what you're saying, I would say you're all a bit off. An advanced worm could actually exploit one's computer at the hardware level, and hack into and reprogram PLC's (programmable logic controllers). One could exploit and utilize PLC's to absolutely cause a fan speeds to go off the charts, or to stop them and effectively destroy vital components/chipsets. It has been done before, many times. I forgot the name of the worm, but a worm had infiltrated and exploited very specific computers in Iran (I believe it was Iran), which had EFFECTIVELY messed up their whole nuclear program (at least for awhile) by infecting PLC's to cause turbines to spin at an extreme frequency to totally mess the program up. I suppose we all know who did this... probably either the US's CIA (or NSA) or another clandestine agency sent in to spy on the specs of their systems and therefore launch an effective worm to destroy or at least set back their nuclear program for quite a while.

This is all very well documented, and it does and can happen to anyone. IF one may correct me if I may be wrong about the specific worm (worm's are like viruses, except they actually are designed to automatically find and exploit a system it has found to be vulnerable. I believe the name of this worm (I may be wrong) to be called "Stuxnet." But it essentially exploits vulnerabilities on a system (mainframes/servers) and uses whatever means it has at its disposal (AI usually) to do whatever the writer(s) designed it to exploit and do. Sabotage and acting as and being a sort of botnet which spreads through exploitation of exposed/vulnerable targets. Some of these types of worms are very dangerous, even in the real-world.. from grabbing CC's and bank account info even, along with completely messing systems up.. to sabotage, or serve some selfish agenda(s).

In short, a worm or virus designed to sabotage systems is a very, very real threat, and they always have been.

  • Oops. I guess someone already mentioned Stuxnet. Sorry! Yes, it is a very real thing. All it needs to do is know a target, its hardware and software, and then be designed to launch an attack via the programmable logic controllers. I do also believe a well-coded worm would be AI (sometimes good AI), able to adapt itself to the possibly any architecture and access and overwrite PLC's to cause hardware damage: these kinds of worms are almost always using 0day vulnerabilities/exploits. As much as I despise these programs, ya gotta give the coders credit. Some of em are works of art. – c0nfu53d Nov 1 '16 at 21:24
2

Yes, did this by accident. It was actually an attempt at an AI, essentially it overwrote the SPD (serial presence detect) chips which on this model of laptop were write enabled instead of read only. Guess what.. trashed! It initially failed bootup with a cryptic message about SCD error and requiring F1 to fix then about a month later gave up completely. (Acer 5730 series Core 2 Duo T7300) with a test on another machine wiping out the LCD ID chip. I think it might have also corrupted the hard drive as well, hard to fix secondary damage like this but the memory and BIOS were ruined. Also found that the RAM chips themselves were OK, I determined this by testing them in another machine and they worked fine after reflashing with a copy of the original saved SPD data though Windows 7 x64 wouldn't run at all.

If anyone else runs into this problem its worth checking if its got 1 or 2GB 10600s EcoRAM sticks as these seem to be problematical. I swapped out these for single 4GB in all my machines and this helped a lot with reliability. A lot of early laptops would not work at all initially with 4GB but later did when the BIOS was patched presumably so the manufacturers could test them.

1

Unsure with recent video cards, but some older were known to burn to flame or explode when (too much) overclocked. But I cannot remember whether the overclocking only required a software operation (what a virus can do) or some changes on hardware switches...

1

These are some of the things that have been done with malicious code and some things that could be done.

  • Hard drive trashing - constantly moving that arm until death
  • Over voltage - with software based Overclocking, it's not hard to up voltage until ram or CPU damage occurs. Motherboards step voltage down to work with these components. Many modern boards with overclocking functions allow for this to be manipulated from the OS. Pushing 2.3 volts into ddr2 will kill it. pushing 2 volts into ddr3 can kill it. The CPUs can be damaged the same way. I assume some Video cards can also be damaged this way.
  • Fan speed manipulation - stopping or slowing fans until over heating occurs. This can be coupled with disabling temperature fail safes. I haven't heard of a situation that you can over spin a fan. Unless your cranking the voltage up higher than what the PSU puts out, I don't see it as a possibility. Specialized hardware would need to be implemented to over volt beyond the max input voltage. I also haven't seen any fans not rated for the same voltage the PSU puts out. I'm sure there is some higher voltage server equipment out there, but even then, I expect that voltage to be throttled down before it ever hit the hardware in a system.
  • Consistent overloading a PSU with stress. A under rated PSU will run hotter under a heavy load, eventually leading the internal components to fail This is typically capacitors.
  • Motherboard BIOS: With flashing capabilities from the OS, a bios with malicious code could be flashed. It's also possible to flash a bios and force a thermal shutdown by stopping the fans. This would leave the bios in a half flashed or corrupted state, making the board useless until repaired.

When it comes to damaging electronics, there is really only a handful of ways to do it. You either cook it with heat, burn it up with electricity, wear moving parts out, or continuously shock the components until they are dead.

1

Yes, it is quite possible by understanding the structure of the working board. Only then we can link RAM to our desire like: overload, over voltage, disturb timings, manipulate functions like read memory (000001 to 001000). If it happens the RAM will definitely be destroyed. If that doesn't have a heat sink or fan some modern ram has that feature nowadays but still can be damaged by any software

Program example:

SH <000001>
AND reg-1
Value -1
R =1
PP = <SH>
R1 =< 001000>
TIM =9-9-9-21
CHG= <CH>
L<CH>
CHG <100000>

So now we know the basic interpretation so lets suppose that we have a DDR3 1333Mhz RAM so the code would be

0001 0000 0000 0000 0000 0010 1000 0001 0000 
1000 0001 0000 0000 0000 0000 0010 1000 0001 
0000 1000 0001 0000 0000 0000 0000 0010 1000
0001 0000 1000 0001 0000 0000 0000 0000 0010 
1000 0001 0000 1000 0100 1000 0101 1011 1111

Don't ask me anything about how to write that or full source code. This is for informational purposes only. I won't tell you any C or function coding.

-4

Isn't this largely based on the device being affected? If the virus affects a car and grants access to brakes or steering, then certainly it could cause large amounts of physical damage.

  • 1
    I think it's implied that the damage is to the computing mechanism itself. – schroeder Sep 20 '16 at 20:14
  • /exaggarating exploding a car does damage to the computing mechanism – SAJW Oct 3 '16 at 2:07

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