Computer Viruses that Destroy the Whole Computer

Is it true that there are new email viruses that can actually be mailed out and once opened, cause your computer’s internal components to run so fast that they actually heat up and start to melt your cpu’s main frame? If a virus like this does exist, is it utilized for good, like taking out terrorist, or is it a terror threat to computer users?

No, such a virus is basically impossible unless your computer has inadequate cooling. There are viruses that overwrite your BIOS and force you to buy a new mothrboard (or otherwise re-write the chip) , but I wouldn’t even call that physical damage.

There are limits to what any computer virus can acheive. As computers get “smarter” (controlling their own fans, controlling household devices), viruses will get more powerful.

I’ve heard of malicious programs that could cause I/O components to rapidly switch on and off at a rate beyond their designed limit; not just wearing them out, but actually damaging them, due to some kind of (I think) inductive effect. Sorry, I don’t have a cite and it may be false, but it isn’t entirely implausible.

It’s nearly impossible for software to physically damage modern hardware. Microcontrollers (small CPUs with their own RAM and ROM operating independently from the main CPU) are becoming more and more common in peripheral devices (things like monitors and printers and the like) and components, and a microcontroller can be programmed to decide that the instructions it has been given make no sense and refuse to act on them. Since a microcontoller’s program is typically burned into ROM, it’s impossible to reprogram them except by physically altering the system. An example of this is that modern monitors will not burn themselves out, no matter what the computer tells them to do: They’ll go blank and put up an error message rather than operate at an unsafe level.

This is generally regarded as a Good Thing.

Of course, I mentioned modern hardware. There are some notable exceptions, such as the Motorola 6800 CPU being willing to burn itself up by toggling its bus lines too quickly. That’s an example of software damaging hardware.

Another example is the fact that old monitors would accept damaging instructions from the video card and/or CPU, ranging from operating at an unsafe refresh rate (typically way too fast, with predictable results) to directing the electron beam to the center of the CRT’s target without moving, which would turn the flyback transformer operating the electron gun into an expensive space heater until it morphed into a charred block of crap. This would typically happen on microcomputers from the 1970s-1980s, when people wrote software that would directly futz with the video RAM and the simple psuedo-OSes didn’t provide a hardware abstraction. Again, this cannot happen on modern machines, no matter how broken or malicious the software controlling the main CPU is.

Similar hijinx could be pulled with the various drives, spinning them up and slowing them down rapidly enough to burn them out. I think even disk drives are now intelligent enough to prevent that. Again, this was a legitimate problem on the glorified pocket calculators that passed as home computers in the 1970s-1980s.

A post from an archived comp.lang.c thread that discussed the various ways software could harm hardware back in the Good Old Days.