Can a Virus Really Destroy a Hard Drive?

Sometimes I hear from people who say a virus ‘destroyed’ their hard drive and they had to buy a new one. But are there actually viruses that can physically damage a hard drive? Is it even possible for a virus to damage hardware, or is this an urban legend? Read on to find out the truth…

Beware the Horrible, Terrible, Evil, Hard Drive Destructo Virus!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “A virus wiped out my hard drive, so I had to buy a new one and re-install everything.” When I ask what exactly they mean, the victim sometimes claim that a virus ‘fried the electronics,’ ‘crashed the head,’ or otherwise physically damaged the drive. In other cases, people were told by a repair technician that a virus had permanently damaged the hard drive, and they needed to purchase a new one.

My short and simple answer to the question is “no”. To the best of my knowledge, no antivirus researcher has ever discovered a virus that causes physical damage to hardware. You can be sure that such a discovery would have made headlines all over the world. It just hasn’t happened.

People who claim it has happened are wrong, or are being disingenuous. Or it could be what I call “Cousin Vinny Syndrome” — a modern day version of “I heard it from a friend who knows a guy who lives near the police department in a major city, and he knows about this stuff.”

It’s not unheard-of for an unscrupulous repair technician to tell a naïve customer that a virus has “destroyed” a hardware component, usually a hard drive. Then the technician gets to sell the victim a new hard drive, memory stick, motherboard or power supply. They’ll also charge for the “service” of re-installing the operating system and apps, in addition to the hours of labor that went into “diagnosing” the bad news. The customer leaves thinking that viruses can damage hardware, and blames viruses for any future hardware problems.

Then there are the amateurs who, upon failing to fix their own hardware, conclude that “it must have been a virus because I couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong.” There are various computer glitches (which may include a virus, a power spike, or just poorly written software) that can wipe out critical sectors of a hard drive. When this happens, you’ll be greeted by a startup screen that says “Disk Boot Failure”, “No Fixed Disk Found”, “Missing Operating System” or some other ominous error message that *seems* to indicate that the hard drive is physically damaged. But in almost every case, it’s not really a hardware problem.

Of course, there are some perfectly good reasons for intentionally destroying a hard drive.

Viruses can and have turned hard drives into seemingly useless bricks. But the only thing they can damage is the data stored there. A virus that overwrites the drive’s boot sector renders it inoperable. But a corrupted boot sector is fixable; only the data written to that sector has been damaged, not the magnetic media that stores the data. Reformat the drive, or reconstruct the boot sector, and the drive will work again. If a virus wipes out files, you can restore from a backup, and you’re back in action.

Hard Drives, Head Games and Semantics

Getting back to the original point, is it possible to write a virus that destroys hard drives? A hard drive (like many other PC components) is controlled by embedded chips that contain low-level “microcode.” This microcode can be replaced in what’s called a “flash update.” So why couldn’t a virus replace the legitimate microcode? In a Computer World magazine column published in 2005, columnist Robert Mitchell got a Western Digital VP to admit that it is possible, in theory. Mitchell claimed this admission proves that a virus could “essentially destroy” a drive.

But Mitchell was playing a semantics game. “Essentially” does not mean “physically.” In his context, “destroy” means “render unusable.” A virus could make it impossible for the system’s BIOS to communicate with a drive, but it could not damage the drive’s hardware. If the virus could be flushed out with a new legitimate flash upgrade, the drive would work again. Again, there’s no physical damage — only the DATA on the device is affected. And data can be replaced.

I’ve also heard about theoretical viruses that write data so frantically to the hard drive, that it just eventually crashes the head or wears out the surface of the drive. I just can’t buy this theory, because that virus would have to be running non-stop for months or even years before anything bad happened. I struggled to find an analogy for this, and I thought of the Etch-a-Sketch. Its surface is kind of like a hard drive platter, and the little “pen” you control with the dials is the read/write head. You can scribble all you want, but you’re not going to damage the device. And anything you write on the surface of the Etch-a-Sketch screen can be wiped away by shaking it and starting over. That’s similar to reformatting a hard drive, which will wipe out the virus and anything that it did.

And then there’s the Chernobyl Virus, which appeared in the late 1990s. Some have said that it could cause actual physical damage to the BIOS chip, but that appears to be the stuff of legend and rumor. It might have been able to erase data on a hard drive, or over-write the data on the BIOS, but that’s not permanent physical damage. Oh, and I have to mention StuxNet, the virus that targetted computers controlling uranium enrichment equipment in Iran. In this case, the virus tried to affect the functioning of centrifuges and other equipment being controlled by the infected computers. There was no physical damage to the computers, and it’s not even clear if the centrifuges were damaged.

Let Me Be Perfectly Clear..

I am NOT trying to say that a computer virus can’t damage files or destroy data. Of course it can. And 15 or 20 years ago, old-school hackers might have been interested in doing that type of thing. But today, viruses are not created to destroy hardware or data. Viruses are created to steal data and money, to send spam, or to disrupt other users with denial of service attacks. And they’re written so as to do their dirty work in secret. Virus creators WANT your hard drive to last a long time, so they can continue to use your computer to do their bidding.

Of course, computer components such as hard drives, motherboards, RAM, graphics cards and power supplies can wear out, or burn out. But those things are caused by defects in manufacturing, poor quality materials, overheating, or power surges. If a computer repair tech tells you a virus caused it, take your computer somewhere else.

If you (or your Cousin Vinny) disagree with my opinion that a virus cannot physically damage a hard drive, please let me know! And please, cite a credible source when you do.

Have a great week from all of us on the ZI and FI Staff.

Linden Lab Layoffs

Linden Lab Lays Off Over 20 Members of Sansar Team, Confirm Insiders; Social VR Platform to Continue Operating With Skeleton Crew

Sansar Linden Lab layoff social VR

Confirming a blog post from Ryan Schultz (along with some ominous rumblings I heard last Friday), some insiders tell me that Linden Lab has recently laid off over 20 staffers working on Sansar, the company’s social VR platform. Even more tragically, the layoffs include some longtime Lindens who got their start working on Second Life, Linden Lab’s core profitable product, but who were moved to the Sansar team.

Asked to comment on these layoff reports, a Linden Lab spokesperson just sent me this response, in its entirety:

“We have no comment at this time, but we’re continuing to develop both Second Life and Sansar, and we’re excited about the many new partnerships and features on tap for 2020!”

This move is not at all surprising, and follows a round of Linden Lab layoffs last year; more key, Sansar has steadfastly refused to grow its user numbers, with peak concurrency remaining in the low hundreds at most, despite marketing campaigns with major brands like Hello Kitty, Spielberg’s Ready Player One, and top esports groups.

My understanding is Sansar will not be closed down, or sold, but will continue operating with a skeleton crew, and in all likelihood, eventually be run as a spinoff company and product separate from Linden Lab.

In any case, this is a sad turn for a project that began under the leadership of former Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble, when Sansar was conceived as a spiritual successor to Second Life. But between Humble stepping down and Ebbe Altberg taking the reigns at CEO, some management decisions shifted Sansar’s direction:

 

Originally developed to be a direct successor to Second Life, including a heavy emphasis on creation tools, I’m told Linden Lab management ignored the advice of longtime Linden developers who helped launch Second Life, and moved away from that direction. This meant that Sansar creation would only be possible by uploading mesh (as opposed to in-world creation), which made the world less appealing to longtime SLers. Sansar management then jumped onto virtual reality as the new hotness (something Ebbe Altberg fully admitted to me when I interviewed him last Spring), so shifted the virtual world to be a social VR product. The company has been moving away from that VR emphasis in recent quarters, but by then, the Sansar ship was already floundering.

In recent product meetings streamed on Twitch, Linden Lab has suggested they’ll put more focus on Sansar as a platform for live events, as there has been some limited success with Sansar-based EDM shows put on by MonsterCat records. But that shift is meeting some skepticism.

“That’s the spin they going with now,” as longtime third party Sansar developer “Gindipple” tells me. “They’ve changed direction so many times now. They are winging this and hoping. I gave up on them a while ago, so don’t care as much now. They lost a lot of good people in this cut back, some went to SL but many [are] just out.

“And the thing is, when a company does this,” he adds with irony, “the remaining people come to work so highly motivated now.”

As for Second Life, Linden Lab is still hiring team members to work on that 16 year old virtual world.

We at Zoha Islands  wanted to make sure these allegations were correct and true before we passed along in our blog. And we will keep you posted with any updates on this subject as they become available and reliable sourced.

Have a great week from all of us at ZI and FI

How Soon Will Your Hard Drive Fail?

A common question is “How long will my hard drive last?” It’s a very good question, but it might be the wrong question. Read on for some stats on the life expectancy of a hard drive, and find out the more important question you should be asking yourself…

Hard Drive Life Expectancy (and the Right Question)

Whenever I am asked, “How long can I expect a hard drive to last?” I reply with, “How often do you back up your data?” This seeming non sequitur perplexes people, but I have found that the answer to my question is, almost invariably, the reason the first question is asked. The questioner is wondering how much longer he/she can get away with not backing up data.

Technobabble about MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) in the 50,000 to 100,000 hour range is useless. Those hours are active hours during which the read/write head of the drive is moving. You have no way to monitor and record read/write head activity and you don’t want to be bothered doing so unless you’re a test engineer for a hard drive manufacturer.

Furthermore, MTBF measures mean (average) time before the hardware fails catastrophically, as in “won’t spin anymore.” That is the very last thing that will go wrong with a hard drive, akin to throwing a rod in your car’s engine. Long before the hardware fails catastrophically, you will be experiencing losses of data, and you might not even notice that it’s happening.

When data is written to a drive, the magnetic charge of tiny areas of the physical disk is altered. One magnetic state means “0” or zero, the other means “1” or one… or on/off, if you prefer. The patterns of this binary code store your data as a collection of magnetized spots in one state or the other. In order to make the disk reusable, the magnetic state of each spot on it must be changeable.

A lot of things can change that magnetic state beside the drive’s read/write head. A strong magnetic field near a drive can scramble data. Power blips can cause a read/write head to write (change the magnetic state of a spot) instead of read, overwriting data with gibberish. Even cosmic rays can penetrate any computer case and zap the data on a hard drive, although a cosmic ray is so narrow it will probably affect only one or a handful of data spots.

You don’t believe in cosmic rays? As I like to say, choosing not to believe in something doesn’t make it go away. But no matter — natural disasters like fires, floods, hurricanes and tornados also tend to dramatically shorten the lifespan of a hard drive. Even if your brand new 2 terabyte hard drive has no manufacturing defects, it won’t last long in an F5 tornado packing 200 MPH winds. And of course, there are well-known threats from viruses, botnets, and ransomware.

So a hard drive is in constant danger of having all or part of its data either erased, corrupted, destroyed, or otherwise rendered unreadable. It doesn’t matter if the drive is fresh out of the box or nearing its MTBF. (That list of destructive actions reminded me of another phrase: “Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate”. I searched for that and found an interesting 100-year history of the punch card.

What Studies Have Been Done on Hard Drive Life Expectancy?

A study on hard drive longevity was conducted by Backblaze, an online backup provider that has more than 25,000 consumer-grade hard drives in service. They found that 78% of the drives they use are lasting longer than four years. That might sound good, but it also implies that 22% of hard drives fail in the first four years.

The Backblaze study identifies the three most common causes of drive failure: factory defects, random failures, and parts that wear out. The failures due to factory defects tend to happen in the first 18 months of service. Failures due to wear out start to increase much faster after the three-year point.

The Backblaze study has been ongoing for several years. Other hard drive studies done by Google and Carnegie-Mellon University have been five-year spans, and both were conducted in 2007. So there just isn’t an authoritative answer as to how long a hard drive will last. Backblaze has some stats that give them confidence to predict that more than half of all drives will last six years. I think you’ll find their report interesting.

What Are the Implications?

Let me summarize and pontificate a bit. About one in five hard drives will fail within four years. Failure rates start to jump after three years. And there’s a 50/50 chance your drive will last six years. Does that give you a warm fuzzy feeling? I’d rather not rely on luck and statistics. My advice is simple… why take chances?

It’s vital to back up your data regularly and not just whenever you don’t feel like doing something else. Regular, automatic backups are the best defense you have against loss of data.

Have a great week from all of us at ZI

It Will Take Awhile for Bakes on Mesh to Make a Difference in SL

Why It Will Take Awhile for Bakes on Mesh to Make a Difference in SL

Bakes on Mesh body SL onion alpha

Commenting on Cassie’s video comparing SL mesh bodies, and her note that Bakes on Mesh doesn’t seem to improve performance, Patchouli W provides this analysis:

BoM’s true value contribution will only surface once onion-skin geometry is stripped away from BoM-optimized versions of the same body and people stop wearing more than one copy of the body geometry because of the removal of said onion-skins. The other optimization that will need to happen – and this is trickier because of limitations on how BoM works currently as well as so many legacy mesh clothing items being reliant on them – is the removal of legacy alpha cutting in favor of a BoM model that can handle ‘cuts’ made by using system layer alphas – this would reduce the amount of duplicated geometry required to fake smooth transitions between disparate pieces of geometry as well.

Only when these two changes are pushed through in full will the full value of BoM in cutting the impact of mesh bodies on the SL grid be fully realized. Then there’s the issue of trying to port this work over to cope with normal and specular/env channels baking, which is an entirely new kettle of fish since the way normals are blended is a little different compared to diffuse and specular texture layering.

This may be true or not true, but what’s striking to me is all the 3D graphics technical jargon one must know to understand the state of Second Life mesh. Or as it was expressed in the immortal line from The Limey: “There’s one thing I don’t understand. The thing I don’t understand is every motherf#@&ing word you’re saying.”

 


Anyway, Patch’s basic takeaway — be patient:

In short, it’s going to take a while, and you need to support your body maker of choice in the transition by encouraging them and providing the feed back they need as they release beta tests of your current body, because if they see it as a thankless task, they may just give up and let go. And that’s no good for any one of us.

And don’t forget to watch Cassie’s mesh round-up above!

Have a great week from all of us at ZI and FI

Haunted Second Life

“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”  – 
from Shakespeare’s Macbeth

 

Oh, there are strange ( and stranger) things afoot, and all over the Grid, Residents and Creators alike are brewing up some Halloween mischief. It is — after all — one of the most exciting and celebrated holidays in Second Life!

All Hallows Eve, Samhain. Hallow E’en – a time when the spookiest, kookiest, and most mystical of mayhem rolls into our world like a thick and possibly sentient fog. The veil between the living and the departed grows thin, and everywhere you look, you see pumpkins, skeletons, ghosts, and ghouls. And don’t forget the treats, and sweets, and tricks and broomsticks – it’s magical!

This week’s destination video highlights just a few of the scarier Regions you can experience in Second Life, and while many embrace the spookier side of things all year round, be sure to haunt the Haunted category of the Destination Guide, throw on your favorite costume, and explore. Then join us on Halloween from 11 am to 2 pm SLT for our annual Creepy Crawl. More details on the schedule for that are coming …

Locations featured in this video are:

 

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Arranmore

Explore the timeless coastal island of Arranmore, with its haunted manor house and photogenic scenery. Enjoy the creepy landscape shrouded in mist. Remember, it is not what you can see that is scary – it is what you can’t see. Don’t forget to take the flashlight from the station platform when you arrive.

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Everwinter

Welcome to Everwinter, a post-apocalyptic theme park. Many years after a nuclear disaster, Everwinter sits frozen in time. Explore the aftermath, take in the sights and sounds, or maybe find a quiet spot in an abandoned building. Frequented by scavengers and those lucky enough to survive, only time will tell how long you’ll last in Everwinter.

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Pendle Hill

Welcome to Pendle Hill, a new creepy build by Lauren Bentham. Explore the dark side of Second Life at this creepy haunted island. Bring your friends and wander the misty shores and haunted house of Pendle Hill, but remember, it is not what you can see that is truly scary, it is what you can’t see. Don’t forget your camera, so you can take home some photo memories of your visit.

These regions are made by well-known UK-based designer Lauren Bentham, whose work – with her unique style that includes delicate windlight design – includes more lighthearted fare such as beaches and other relaxation spots.

For more  Destination videos, check out our Destination Video channel on our official YouTube Channel.

Video production courtesy of Draxtor Despres
Featured in this video: Masks and avatars by Walton Wainwright

Have a Great Week From All Of Us At ZI