back to article Click here to turn your HP laptop into a brick

A second bug in HP laptop utilities creates a means for hackers to turn PCs into "unbootable" bricks. Flaws in the automatic software update tool bundled with HP notebooks might be abused to alter vital system files (in the kernel or elsewhere) leaving PC unbootable, according to a post on the milw0rm full disclosure mailing …


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  1. joe_bruin

    Not Bricking

    Simply corrupts Windows. Not ideal, sure, but the hardware is intact and you can reinstall. Hardly a brick.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    No brick here.

    Let's be quite clear about this - the problem's not the laptop, it's the software that some people are silly enough to run on it.

  3. Ole Juul

    Lotsa bricks here

    I just want to know where to click to turn them into laptops!

  4. Tom

    It stems from security flaws in an ActiveX control

    Oh that has never happened before... ActiveHex would be a better name.

  5. Chris C

    re: Not Bricking

    It depends on what you mean by "brick" and "you can reinstall". Considering that HP laptops no longer come with installation or recovery CDs, reinstalling may not be an option. If remote computers are given full access to a system, they can most likely wipe out the files on the recovery partition, leaving nothing to recover from. So yes, you can reinstall if you have the knowledge and a copy of the necessary software. But for most people (read: HP's primary audience), the laptop would become a brick (especially since the cost of repair/reinstall would likely be seen as uneconomical compared to the cost of a new laptop, depending on the model).

    As for me, I disable or uninstall all that crap on any system I get no matter who makes it. It's nothing but a resource hog.

  6. Matthew Smith

    re: re: Not Bricking

    It isn't a brick until the BIOS can't be repaired without a soldering iron. Reinstalling an O/S is roughly equivalent to changing the oil in a car engine. A computer without an installation disk is therefore about as useful in the long term as a car without an oil filler cap.

  7. Jason Clery

    @ Anonymous Coward

    Anonymous Coward, you are obvious a paid Linux schill. How much is Shuttleworth paying you? Did you buy a Ferrarri with you the money he gave you for slating Windows?

    El Reg, where is the peguin with an arrow through it logo?

  8. BatCat

    brick fix...

    ... Can be found at

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Oil Change analogy

    Reinstalling the OS is only equivalent to "changing the oil in a car engine" because Microsoft products have conditioned you to think that it's required on a regular basis to maintain smooth running.

    If the analogy reflects the necessity of reinstalling non MS operating systems, then I'd equate it to replacing the engine. Just how many cars have you owned where a complete engine refit was necessary every few months?

  10. DB

    Installation disks

    I don't know about the UK or elsewhere but here in Sweden you can call HP support and tell them your system broke and you were not able to create the installation disks - they will then ship installation CDs free of charge.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    re re re

    Very roughly like an oil change. If you had no oil filler cap (or installation disk) your oil (software?) would, over time, escape from the engine (PC?) and if not attended to, you'd end up with a large metal brick. Which doesn't quite fit.

    I'd rather have no oil filler cap than a seized sump plug - I might not be able to drain the oil but at least I can still put oil in the engine after it's escaped, which would at least put off the engine seizing for long enough to prepare another.

    And as previous correspondents stated, if you're not in the know and don't have a oil filler cap, a trip to the garage could be more expensive than a trip to the showroom.

  12. Tim Butterworth

    OS reinstall disk

    If you own a laptop with an OS licence sticker, then you own a copy of the OS (but that copy will be tied to that particular machine). I would never expect to make it through three years of computer ownership without having to reinstall the OS at least once.

    Anyone who buys a computer without at least a system restore disk deserves the hours of painful negotiations needed to persuade the manufacturer to send one through the post. If you have an XP licence sticker, just borrow someone else's XP disk and activate windows over the phone, explaining what has happened.

    BTW, the term bricking was coined because a bricked peice of hardware is as useless as a brick. By definition, it is impossible to unbrick a bricked laptop without making physical changes to the hardware.

  13. Nick Palmer

    @Chris C

    HP laptops don't come with recovery media, but it takes about 3 or 4 mouse clicks to get them to create a set, and that's in addition to the system recovery utilities provided. A naffed up Windows installation is NOT a bricked machine. As far as the "knowledge" required, it's roughly "press F<whatever> to restore your system". It's really not complicated.

  14. Mike Iwan Phillips
    Gates Halo


    You can tell a Windows user a mile off "Reinstalling an O/S is roughly equivalent to changing the oil in a car engine", you're running the wrong OS if you believe in that analogy.

  15. BatCat

    borrowed windows install media

    even if you're lucky enough to get windows os cd chances are it and the serial number will be locked to the oem that supplied it. i've tried installing windows onto a toshiba laptop from a dell issued cd it detects the non dell bios and refuses to install. likewise trying to use the toshiba serial number and a borrowed non oem cd also fails. then they wonder why people resort to using bent copies of windows.

    if you can live with the limitations, switch to linux.

  16. Fred
    Paris Hilton


    brick is my cf-27...

  17. Kanhef

    @Nick Palmer

    You're correct, but most people don't have any kind of backup/recovery scheme in place until /after/ they've lost data. A few mouse clicks don't help much on a machine with a trashed boot sector.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oy vay.

    I think I'd rather put up with sanctimonious comments from southern baptists than linux nuts. Note to linux nuts: With every obnoxious post I become less and less likely to install linux. At this point I probably wouldn't use it even if it was appropriate to the task, just to avoid having to communicate with its adherents.

  19. CollyWolly

    Car analogys

    While we are on the car analogy theme with changing oil, is it not about time for some Mac fans to jump in and equate owning a Mac to owning some expensive brand of car, while owing a PC is like owning some cheap crappy brand of car....?

  20. Crash Override

    Reinstall media

    First thing I do with any machine which ships without backup media is create some, at LEAST 2 copies. Yet I do know a lot of people don't.

    This is done BEFORE I put anything onto the machine or take it online. It's worth the time.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Oy vay.

    I'll take linux and mac "nuts" over Windows evangelists who frankly don't have a leg to stand on.

    Come on now, stop and think about it for a minute. We've ALL used Windows there can be very few people in the world using a computer right now who haven't. We've been there for a long time and have chosen to switch. Why would we do that if it wasn't genuinely an improvement? You really believe that all the millions of linux users are just liberals or communists who buy into the open source 'religion'?

    If the the linux nuts exist for any reason, it's a direct reaction to the misinformation that is rife about the many Windows alternatives. Misinformation spread most often by people like you who admit to never having installed linux, or having tried it years ago. Would it be fair to judge the whole Windows brand on the basis of Windows ME?

    I'm a long time linux user and more recently a code contributor, but it's not been long since I was able to cut my dependence on Windows entirely. I've seen linux evolve by gigantic leaps year by year, even week by week. I believe that no-one has anything to lose by trying it and a lot to gain if you stick with it.

    FWIW I'm unimpressed by Ubuntu. Shuttleworth's marketing and a minority of vocal zealots have turned it into the messiah of Linux distros. In reality the developments seen in Ubuntu were appearing in other distros at exactly the same time, but few users bothered to compare like for like. I'd recommend Mandriva 2008 over Gusty personally.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Seems redundant now

    As one of those with this utility, it seems to have acquired a security patch today - I can only assume to fix this issue, so it seems this problem is sorted.

    While I'm sure it's possible to do all sorts of nasty things via various flaws, the majority are in the position to restore their laptop if they need to.

    Not that I'd expect many laptops to get trashed via this flaw - trashed machines seem to be the remit of 'professional' applications these days, the criminal scum seem to have better uses for compromised machines than stopping them working.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    re: OS reinstall disk

    "I would never expect to make it through three years of computer ownership without having to reinstall the OS at least once."

    What? I'm on only my 3rd PC in 11 years (5years, 3.5 years and 2.5 yrs and going strong - *and* it's a HP compaq!) and apart from once in the first month I owned my first PC, I've never had to reinstall the OS.

    In 6+ years working in IT (I am not a techie) only my techie colleagues have had major PC problems. I can feel a correlation coming on ;-)

  24. Anonymous Coward


    Note: F11 is the key to press at boot to access the HP recovery drive. I can do these in my sleep (no, I do not own an HP computer! Had a Compaq once, and once was enough!!). Tells you how good Vista, is though.

    Right now, though, you can't even make your recovery disks on an HP. They seem to be having some problems with their program. It keeps erroring out on the newer systems. "Use a high quality disk" the message will tell you. If you ask really nicely, though, they do send you a copy of the disks. And if you purchased the HP at Costco, call the tech support line, and we call the HP second level support in Idaho (that's Idaho as in US - not India). They are always more than happy to send restore disks - and they are the ones who told me there was a problem.

    If you are looking to dip your toes into the Linux waters, don't go with one of the bigger programs. Try Puppy. Like the name says, it's small, fast and friendly and you don't ever need to install it on your hard drive and remove Windows or fuss with dual booting - it will run on the RAM. And an ISO of Puppy isn't a bad thing to keep around "just in case" your Windows won't will read and copy Windows files to CD or USB connected drive in an emergency... No, I'm not a regular Puppy user, I still use XP mostly, starting to use Leopard, but I can appreciate when a tool does a good job and does it right.

  25. James O'Shea Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    re: OS reinstall disk

    Anyone who has to reinstall their OS at least once every three years, on any system not a Win9x or Mac System 7.5.x system, is simply Doing Something Wrong. And System 7.5.x, while a dog, wasn't as bad as Win98. (Or, shudder, WinME.) The only reason any of my personal WinBoxes have had system installs since 2000 is because I moved one or more of them to a new OS: Win 2000, or XP, or Vista, or back to XP. Ditto my Macs: new system installs are made because Apple released a new OS, not because something went tits-up.

    If I had to do an OS install every three years I'd long since be running something which didn't require that kind of thing. Linux. BSD. Whatever. A properly set up and maintained system simply does not require anything of the kind.

  26. Andy Enderby

    dell crapware.....

    I've installed 20 or so dell lappies for a charity in the last few months, and been requested to examine a family friends laptop. In every case as installed by Dell the lappies have been on the verge of useless as supplied, despite a far from modest hardware spec. Each of these unfortunate lappies has fired off so many mnagement apps at boot that there is barely sufficient system resource to fire off notepad. My personal favourite the Vista laptop supplied to the family friend, despite my advice to avoid Vista..... as supplied took 10 minutes to boot. That's ten minutes, as supplied by Dell, no additional software, no apps running other than VIsta + Dell crapware..... God help you if you fire up an IE window..... get a calendar and come back in a week I suspect.

    I fail to see how this adds value.

    On the upside.... actually no, there isn't one. They are in the business of shipping PC hardware with Windows and in my honest opinion should simply stop polishing the turd..... Stop adding more "value added" crap until the damn thing simply sits there useless. Stop spending money on brain damaged "dumbware", simply include a media kit/ recovery pack leave well alone, and avoid all of the complications.

  27. Solomon Grundy

    Recovery Disks and HP

    HP disks and documentation are available on every PC they sell for about $30 extra, you have to select that option.

    So it's not that HP PC's don't come with the disks, it's that you choose not to pay for them.

    (true in the U.S. anyway)

  28. Marty


    as soon as some flaw is outed, the comments on the artical soon become a penis envy contest....

    i am sick of the linux gurus telling everyone windows is a pile of shit and to stop using it. and then the mac fanboys stick a comment or two in....

    first, i am not too happy at being tied to windows... but here's the situation....

    I dont have the time to learn the ins and outs of linux

    its a pain in the arse to install hardware drivers...

    software availability is a issue.... if i need a tool, it takes five min to find somthing for windows.... can i say the same about linux?

    i cant see the point of a dual boot when i can do everything in windows that i can do in linux... and only half the things in linux i can do in windows.

    the point is, my choice of flavour is windows.... sometimes it may be a little sour, but overal it leaves me satisfied...

    if Linux is the flavour of choice for you, good for you... leave me to my windows...

    and if mac is your choice, you must like the taste of shit...

  29. James McGregor
    Paris Hilton

    And the Paris Hilton angle is ...

    ... what, exactly? Good grief, this is just the sort of inane reporting that gives press hacks a bad name. Who could the implications of Ms Hliton's laptop becoming a brick not be taken into account? It's the incompleteness of your report and the total lack of understanding of Ms Hilton's potential distress that annoys me most! :)

  30. Doug Jenkins


    if i need a tool, it takes five min to find somthing for windows....

    Heck, i can find a tool/utility/full app and have it d/l and running in 5 minutes in LinuxI

    God Bless


  31. Michael

    Reminds me....

    <Father Jack>

    I love my brick

    </Father Jack>

  32. Paul Talbot

    @ Marty

    ...and Linux users are generally fed up with people like you digging the boot in as a reaction to pro-Linux comments, using analogies and situations that are well out of date:

    "I dont have the time to learn the ins and outs of linux"

    Fair enough. But that doesn't mean it's not a better solution, it just means that it's not Windows. Same with OSX vs Linux, or OSX vs Windows. If you took the time to try running a live CD (no installation required, mess up the Linux system all you want without consequences), maybe you'd find that for most uses, there's not much to learn.

    "its a pain in the arse to install hardware drivers..."

    I can't remember the last time I had to install drivers separately. The newest version of Mandriva I recently installed picked up my brand new Olympus digital camera and wireless card straight away, no interaction required on my part (I had to install a CD for the wireless in XP before it would work). Just make sure you pick the distro version that includes proprietary (e.g. NVidia, etc.) drivers, and you're all set.

    "software availability is a issue.... if i need a tool, it takes five min to find somthing for windows.... can i say the same about linux?"

    Yes, as long as you're not a brand name junkie. Most distros have repositories of 2000-3000 free software programs in all areas, many of which are equal to or better than the quality of Windows alternatives. It's only when you get into the "I must have Photoshop, nothing else will do" kind of mentality that you run into problems.

    "i cant see the point of a dual boot when i can do everything in windows that i can do in linux... and only half the things in linux i can do in windows."

    I dual boot to accommodate the 2 or 3 programs I have that don't run in Linux, but use those rarely. At present, I'd be more concerned about losing my Linux partition and therefore access to my Amarok stats, KDE widgets and multiple desktops than any of the stuff I use in Windows. There's no specific task I can't do in Linux as well or better than I can in Windows, other than the occasional game and OU program.

    "if Linux is the flavour of choice for you, good for you... leave me to my windows..."

    Fair enough, you do the same. If you read a lot of pro-Linux talk, ignore it. The simple fact is that when most people shrug their shoulders and accept "computer problems", they don't realise it's Windows that's at fault, not the computer. So, when issues like the one in the article appear, some people feel compelled to point out that this kind of flaw is only possible in Windows (other OSes wouldn't let you run as root), and that you shouldn't have to reinstall your OS every so often just to get it running properly.

  33. Geoff Mackenzie

    Lol @ Paid Linux Zealots

    All it takes to get my vocal support is a good, dependable system. Microsoft buy more astroturf than anyone else in IT. Linux doesn't need to.

    Of course if Mr. Shuttleworth would *like* to pay me, that'd be just fine. In the meantime I'll be happy to take a polished, stable, dependable OS as payment.

    (PS: Not an Ubuntu nut personally but it's so slick and easy to set up I've become lazy and developed a tendency to install it by default unless I have a good reason to use something else, like the occasional OpenBSD firewall or Slackware box. Ubuntu is definitely the distribution I'd recommend to my computer illiterate friends, or to a business for use on desktop machines etc.).

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ummm they come with utils for the CD's....

    In my case anyway, when I first booted my new HP it asked if I wanted to create 2 restore DVD's.

    I did, it's happy, I'm happy and windows can break all it want's now :) (Also means I can remove Vista and replace with XP & Linux).

    While they may be a little tight in not providing the DVD's, 2x DVDR's aren't exactly going to break the bank.... and it's simply a case of clicking "Next" to create the DVD's and change disk when it tells you.

    Even my Gran could work that one out.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At all

    The comments on this article are in the main simply embarrassing on a site that is in the main read by IT professionals. I can only think that is a quiet week on /.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Geoff Mackenzie

    "Of course if Mr. Shuttleworth would *like* to pay me, that'd be just fine. In the meantime I'll be happy to take a polished, stable, dependable OS as payment."

    There is one born every minute. And when it gets to how he wants it, I bet Shuttleworth starts charging for it. All the suckers who gave their time for free will be shaking their fists.

    Rule 1: Tycoons are not nice fluffy people. Beardie Branson, Billy Gates, Stevie Jobs. Shuttleworth is in the same mould. Plus he's South African, and as the song goes, I've never met a nice South African.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Re: @Geoff Mackenzie

    Anon, you've obviously missed the point of the GPL license. Shuttleworth can start asking for payment for Ubuntu, but he can't make anyone pay to use it. That code is forever protected by the GPL and if I wanted to tomorrow, I could take Ubuntu, rebrand it and release it free (or not) to the public.

  38. Vernon Lloyd
    Thumb Up

    Just like an oil change....

    however you typical user will be like my next door neighbour of years ago..

    Her: Can you take a look at my car it not starting.

    Me: Sure......Opens Bonnet

    Her: Turn her over

    Car: It turns but not fires

    Me: Have you done anything to it.

    Her: Yes I topped up the fluids.

    Me: Looked around and saw nothing but a watering can. What did you top up

    Her: Everything

    Took oil filler cap off.........

    She had 'filled' the car up with water. It took me 10 trips but its topped up.

    Me: At this time trying not to laugh....Call the AA

    The AA came and drained her oil/gallons of water. He then towed her to a garage where she had her fuel, oil, brakes and power steering drained.

  39. Robin

    It's almost like the good old computer flame wars days...

    I remember back twenty years ago or so when the Apple/IBM flame wars days were on. The BBS's that went dead because of thousands of pointless messages, bantering back and forth over a pointless issue.

    Guys. Seriously. Use whatever you like. Neither operating system is God's gift to anything.

  40. Scott Evil

    @ linux users

    This live CD we can try, you got a link?

    Im thinking about turning my 2nd pc into a linux OS,just curious to see what i can do with it.

    At the moment my xp#2 is just my newsgroup,dixv,iso, porn dumping ground so i thought i would try linux.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    Live CD

  42. Ed
    Thumb Down

    HP = POS

    I have a DV4220tx

    I will NEVER EVER buy a HP laptop again....


    1- Random power downs

    2- A volume control that cannot be muted or turned down until windows boots (great when your working at 3 in the morning and have to restart cause it decided to power off for reasons only know to its self, and yes i have removed the windows startup sound)

    3- Finding no thermal paste on the heatsink after deciding to check the CPU cooler for blockages (thinking the power downs were heat related).

    4- A raised lid closed switch that sends the laptop into standby when acidentally pressed

    and so on and so forth

    HP.... I think it stands for HOW PATHETIC

  43. Martin Walker

    linux v windows

    I'm a pragmatist, I need my PCs to do my work.

    10 or so years ago that meant using cloned unix commands at the DOS prompt.

    5 years ago it meant also having a linux box viewed from windows with vnc,

    2 years ago it meant making the main desktop linux.

    Right now it is down to some resentment that a few things still only work under windows, and that it still can be a horrible and not alway successful fight to get Linux working right.

    1 year on it may be very interesting!

  44. Morely Dotes
    Gates Horns

    @ BatCat

    "if you can live with the limitations, switch to linux."

    Let's see, what are the limitations again? Oh, yes:

    * - The OS and almost any software you'd ever need to run are free.

    * - Software updates extremely rarely require a reboot.

    * - ActiveX security flaws simply don't exist anywhere except on Windows.

    * - It requires a determined effort by a knowledgeable user to get a virus to run on linux.

    * - older hardware will work just fine under linux.

    * - The RIAA/MPAA don't seem to be aware that linux works quite well to play MP3s and DivX files, and can share them nicely too.

    * - any Windows productivity application, and the vast majority of games, can be run on linux, too.

    I could go on, but anyone who doesn't already get the point simply doesn't want to.

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