Can web sites damage your computer?

I was casually looking at the TOS of one of the web sites I use when I came across this:
“The client agrees to hold the operators and owners… harmless for any and all effects that result in the direct or indirect use of the Web Site. This includes, but is not limited to computer damage…”
I’ve heard that web sites can damage your eyes and your mind :), but can they damage your computer?

I suppose it depends on what kind of damage–presumably they are referring to viruses and the like? I can’t think of any way a web site could cause physical damage to your computer. (Maybe if you laugh and spit hot coffee on your keyboard?)

I suspect it’s simply a way of covering their collective asses.

Note my keen grasp of the obvious. What I meant was:

“I suspect it’s simply a way of covering their collective asses in the event something extraordinary occurs.”

I’ll just go away now.

Like mrblue92 said, it’s a CYA clause.

For example, if a a nasty bug in Internet Explorer (what are the odds?!?) causes it to format your hard drive if a certain type of HTML code appears in a web page, and you happen to browse to their site, and the web programmer happens to use that type of HTML code, and the IE bug is triggered, and you lose your hard drive, and the PC happened to be controlling the switchboard for an ambulance service (you were surfing the web at work!), and thus dozens of ambulances throughout the town couldn’t find their destinations, leading to the deaths of several people, then the website TOS says they’re not responsible …


IIRC, there are viruses that can cause actual physical damage to your computer. I assume that these work by somehow turning off the fans on the proc, or something that needs an upkeep to keep from destroying itself, but I dunno.

Perhaps if one of these was infecting a file you got from the site, they would not be responsible?

Yes, there are confirmed viruses that can zap your BIOS. Read this story:

“Hardware-trashing virus spreads by email”

The easiest way to avoid this sort of crap is to use an OS that doesn’t have massive security holes. In other words, get a Mac. I have seen thousands of attempts at hijacking my Mac by web pages, malicious emails, viruses, etc. None of their tricks work on a Mac. I just laugh.

I’m no expert (which is probably quite obvious)but I imagine that the reason that your mac is unusually unaffected(two un’s in a row, is that allowed?) by viruses is not because of some programming geniuses over at apple but more likely because macs don’t control anything important enough to be targeted by virus programmers. I’ve been known to be wrong before though, If it happens I didn’t mean to start a debate on pc vs mac

Nah, the main reason why Macs aren’t infested by viruses is because there are fewer vectors to infect Macs than PCs, and the Mac vectors are already heavily secured.
Windows makes it easy for viruses to distribute and install themselves. I know one security analyst that describes Outlook Express as “virus installation software.” Then there’s VBScript, ActiveX, etc, these are all common methods for viruses to attack PCs. But they don’t exist on the Mac. You could make PCs as secure as Macs, but BillG, in His wisdom, has decreed that all users must run His apps which are insecure and a breeding ground for viruses…

I don’t believe there are any viruses that can cause actual damage to the computer. They could delete everything on the hard drive, and, in theory, mess up the BIOS, but even in the worst case, if you reformat the hard drive, the computer will still function.

Of course, you could just chuck the whole Mac v. PC debate and get Linux. Fast, useful, free, and with loads of freeware.

I’ve never seen a virus that did any of this stuff, but it’s possible to damage hardware through software. Our Dell Poweredge servers have firmware on the motherboard that controls the five fans in the unit. This firmware is upgradeable (I’ve done it) through software, and thus a virus could conceivably do the same thing, except instead of upgrading the firmware it would wipe it out. Without those fans, the computer would die in a few hours.

Also, if the BIOS gets wiped out (not the BIOS settings, but the firmware itself), you have to replace the chip on the motherboard to fix it. I’d consider that damaged hardware, also. Although nothing’s broken, you still have to replace something to fix it (theoretically you could pull the chip out and reburn it if you had the correct burner, though).


Legal departments like to write as large a disclaimer as is possible. But web sites can read your HD. People told me here before that’s a bunch of crap but take a look at online virus checkers, they be reading your HD.

I don’t think a website can give you a virus though, I suppose its possible but if it did it would be taken off the net very fast.

If you have the virus program or part of it on your HD & a link is put to that to run it, I suppose it could infect your computer. e.g. You know, most people have notepad on their PC in the same location & you can make a link to that on your website & when someone clicks on it, it launches notepad & the people screeeem.

Chas.E wrote

Look, you’ve already driven one reasonable question along the GQ->GD->Pit route this week with your political nonsense. Why don’t you at least attempt to a) tell the truth, and b) stay on subject in GQ?

Mac viruses are less common for the same reason Linux viruses are less common: less market penetration, and therefore less interest by virus authors.