Secret Obsession: Odd Windows Crash Alerts

Microsoft Windows isn’t restricted to just laptops and tower PCs: It is also common for Windows to serve as the dominant operating system these days inside of ATMs, cars, vending machines, kiosks, taxi meters, medical imaging devices, advertising display boards and so many of the computerized screens that we gaze upon and take for granted every day.

That is, until they stop working. Indeed, often the first indication that these things are run by Windows is when something causes them to crash, at which point the all-too-familiar Windows error messages or dreaded Blue Screen of Death (BSoD) splashes up on the device’s display. True, malicious software can cause BSoDs, which is the operating system’s way of shutting down to prevent irreparable damage to the underlying system. Just as often, however, a BSoD or critical stop error is the result of some kind of hardware malfunction, such as faulty memory, a failing power supply, or overheating.

It seems I’ve been seeing these BSoDs and “fatal error” type messages in the oddest places lately. Below is a gallery of just a few that I’ve shot recently with my trusty iPhone (aside from that last three, which came from friends and readers). Click one of the images to cycle through a slideshow.

Funny BSoD that was powering an iPhone display booth at a security conference I attended in Washington, D.C. I hate seeing this stuff at airports, like this one on the way into my American flight from Chicago recently A BSoD at a payphone in the Madrid airport.
No Fare: This Redtop cabbie was cranky, as you can see the meter isn’t running because the program kept crashing. This error kept causing the local Redbox DVD rental machine to crash. Supermarket mgr. didn’t want me to take this. I don’t even like to think the word “crash” while at airports.
No Soda for You! This was supplied by a reader, who took the photo at a mall in Edison, NJ Another airport BSoD submitted by a reader. Reader-submitted fatal error image from a taxi in New York City
Reader-submitted embedded OS fail at a N. Va. gas pump Reader submitted BSoD at St. Pancras International railway station in London, UK.

I don’t know why I find these so fascinating, but it seems I’m not alone, as there are quite a few repositories for these types of pictures. For some reason (probably because the displays overheat from being always-on), airports are a very common place to see BSoDs.

There several Web sites dedicated to Windows BSoDs and error messages in bizarre places. Check out Miguel Carrasco‘s Top 10 BSoDs. Flickr has an impressive collection of error pics tagged “BSoD”. One of the largest examples of a very public BSoD came during the opening ceremonies at the 2008 Summer Olympics in China, when one of the massive LCD screens overhead suddenly went blue.

Surely, some of you readers have snapped your own photos of BSoDs or error messages in unexpected places. If so, shoot them to me at krebsonsecurity at gmail dot com, and I may include them in this post. Please don’t send photos you don’t want posted, and most especially only send me pics that are original and that you have the rights to publish.

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