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How to really destroy a computer with Linux

So, I’m trying to setup a honeypot with a old laptop running Ubuntu. I’m also considering giving away root privileges to some default name accounts, I know that it’s possible to mess up the OS installation and file system, but I’m not worried with that. I’m concerned that there is a way to really screw up my laptop hardware with root privileges. I have some candidates like /dev/sys/firmware, cpu microcode, overvoltage, but not knowing for sure if that can be done (not really a thing I can test eh?), I figured that this is the place to ask these kind of questions.

So, how can someone really mess up a computer with Linux and root privileges?

Edit: Just to clarify, I know it’s possible to destroy the installation with dd, but like I said above, I’m not worried with that, I’m concerned with physically bricking the laptop’s hardware.

Edit 2: It’s only considering a remote connection like ssh, so no physical access to the machine therefore, no thermite :slight_smile:

Talking physically, or just the os?

Because physically, it’d be difficult. Software wise, rm -rf --no-preserve-root comes to mind.

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Jokes asside yeah physically its hard and technically rm -rf only removes the data off the spinning disk. you can still recover that with tools.


Something that affects thermals is really the only thing I can think of, but even that has safeguards that would be difficult to bypass.

I’d worry more about the network side of things, and make sure it’s not possible for anything to pivot from the honeypot into some other part of your network.

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Wont a dd command that fills a drive with zero equally be dangerous?

You can probably set the voltage on your CPU if you modprobe msr, but you CPU will crash pretty quickly.

You can on some laptops/monitors write to the EDID eeprom, which can brick the screen/monitor (can be restored and the screen can be forced into a valid resolution).

Just run the honeypot in a VM :slight_smile:


Only in regards that it “deletes” everything from the drive. So the OS and partition table will be gone, nothing else can happen.

Here are somethings I could think of:

  • If the OS has access to UEFI stuff, you might be able to corrupt/remove some UEFI variables, and it will “brick” the hardware, although that could be fixed with a CMOS reset or removing the battery.
  • If you have access to flash firmware, you might be able to brick a GPU or the screen EDID as @mehmedbasic said. Though these should be recoverable as long as you can stick in a live Linux USB that you can SSH into. (Or swap the HDD entirely)

Yeah, I thought of overvolting. That could actually work. CPUs tend to be just fine running way over voltage, until the silicon degrades too much. Just running a bit hot.

It would take a long time though.

Just to clarify, I’m just concerned with the laptop physical hardware, not the software side of things

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Yeah, so then all the other physical means are applicable.

Oh, wait! Since it’s a laptop. It has a battery. And a charging circuit.

Now, some laptops have access to reflash their charging circuit. Not all do tho.

You could develop malicious firmware for the battery which could cause the battery to overcharge and either vent or catch fire. There is potential for a total loss of the equipment and also the encompassing structure, however, this is wargaming and I do not believe this will actually happen.

Heres an article from a while back outlining the issue a bit more:


Just run the honeypot in a VM

Yeah that may be the wisest, but that may spoof some attackers with some of the virtual hardware id’s. Since it is an old laptop, I really have nothing to lose if I run it bare metal …unless someone can brick it…

Well noted, that is indeed my second most important concern. May be it should be first…

I edited the original post just to clarify that I’m not concerned with the drive content. It’s ok to mess up my OS, just not my hardware.

Oh wow, that’s f’ed up!

Thanks for letting me know, for sure I’m looking up this!

I might just remove the battery just to be safe

But by setting a ridiculous number, shouldn’t just the voltage spike fry the cpu?

Bud if you could do that overclocking would be easier in linux.

You can bad-touch some EEPROM’s, which can lead to a bricked system: Problem with lm-sensors - ThinkWiki

You could also potentially attack a GPU with a bad vbios.

Can you still destroy monitors by sending the wrong settings like way back in the day, or is that fixed now?

Could also potentially load malicious firmware on things like hard drives, but that’s getting into state-actor level of effort and expertise.

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There are protections in place to prevent you from giving your cpu 2 volts, for example.

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These days the mobo capacitors will fry out first before anything catastrophic happens to the CPU itself