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Physical damage to hard drive caused by malware

My friend's hard drive recently went bad. He was having some problems booting before it bit the dust completely. I managed to extract his vital data from the drive by mounting it in my machine. We both run Win2k. The next day, my hard drive started having problems. I couldn't boot either, and I couldn't "rescue" Windows 2000 because it said my drive was too corrupted. I managed to get my data off that drive, and I bought a new one, reintalled windows and grafted my old data back in from the damaged drive. My question is this: Is it possible for a virus to physically damage a hard drive? Could such a virus spread simply by its host drive being mounted on a soon-to-be victim's machine? I didn't run any executables from his drive. It just seems like too much of a coincidence that both drives went down. I had Norton with all the latest definitions at the time. I could have the virus still, since I still have data from his original bad dirve on mine now.

You would be very hard pressed to find anyone with proof that a virus had damaged your hard drive. Theoretically, it might be possible to do something that would cause some sort of damage, but I am unaware of any such malware ever being found in the wild. It is a common misconception that viruses damage hard drives, but the reality has been that they erase or corrupt data. This subject has been debated ad nauseam and the end result is always something along the line that "well, it is possible, or at least was a few years ago." Most hard drives cannot be damaged by any software running on them.

You may want to to check out your drive controller. Over the years, I have found that hard drives die with tragic frequency -- in fact, I'm awaiting the diagnosis from a manufacturer on a 17GB drive I purchased just over a year ago and which suddenly "got confused."

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This was last published in March 2002

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