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Thursday July 9, 2015
The world has reached a point where everything is dependent on a set of codes. From the cars that you drive to military vehicles, and department stores to top secret military installation, everything runs on computer programs. The integration of software to our day to day life has truly made life easier.
As helpful as software has been, they have also contributed to some of the most bizarre and catastrophic losses to nations and companies worldwide. Most of these have occurred due to improper software testing methodologies.
The results were devastating in terms of financial damages and in the some serious cases, even human life was sacrificed. This blog brings insight into some of the most outrageous events that took place in history by reliving those moments.
More often than not, software integration using computers gets it right and gets the job done. But when things start to fall apart, all hell breaks loose.
1. Almost World War III
On the night of September 26, 1983, the early warning system of the Soviet alerted of a nuclear strike launched by America. What could have been a worldwide bloodshed was averted, thanks to the Soviet Air Defence officer Stanislav Petrov. Later he said in the Washington Post that he “had a funny feeling in my gut” about the authenticity of the warning. Investigations proved that the alarm system was faulty.
2. Faulty Mars Climate Orbiter
NASA is known for many blunders, but none more embarrassing than what happened with its Mars Climate Orbiter. Launched on December 11, 1998, the mission to better understand the only other planet capable of supporting life in our solar system would bring United States to the forefront in astronomical research.
But what happened was quite different. An error in the ground-based computer software resulted in a $326.7 million lose to the agency. The Orbiter went missing after 286 days of its launch. Software testing showed that a slight miscalculation caused the Orbiter to enter Mars’s atmosphere at the wrong entry point causing it to disintegrate.
3. Bug Triggered Blackout
Eight US states and Canada were given a scare by a tiny bug in the software thread affecting 50 million people. What the authorities described as a race condition bug, was caused when two separate threads of a single operation used the same element of code. The lack of synchronization caused the threads to tangle and eventually crash the system. This caused 256 power plants to go offline causing major disruptions and widespread panic.
4. Glitch in Patriot Missiles
The bugs that were mentioned so far were responsible for some major financial loses but the software error in the Patriot Missiles caused the lives of 28 with an additional 100+ injured. The missiles were designed to protect the American barracks from the scud missile during the Gulf war. But the bug caused a delay in tracking the missiles real-time rendering the barracks defenceless to the Iraqi attacks. The loss of human life is what makes this one of the most costly software testing mistakes in history.
5. The IRS Debacle
The Internal Revenue Service lost something between $200 and $300 million in revenue in 2006 while depending on computer software to find potential fraud cases in returns claiming refunds. The tax collection agency later found that the software was inoperable, but by then it was too late.
6. $440 million in 30 Minutes
The losses were even higher for Knight Capital Group, when the bugs in the company’s trading algorithm decided to buy high and sell low on 150 different stocks. A market-making firm that had an outstanding reputation up until August of 2012 managed to hit rock-bottom in just 30 minutes; surely it has to be a world record.
By the time the company addressed the issue the losses were cataclysmic. The company lost $440 million as compared to their net income of $296 million in 2011. Even the company stock price dropped 62 percent in one day, according to Bloomberg Business week.
7. 450 Violent Offenders Given Parole
This embarrassing and dangerous event took place in California when 450 high-risk prisoners were released into the public. The state which decided to reduce its prison population by 33,000, releasing non-violent offenders, instead went on to grant non-revocable paroles to approximately 450 violent felons. A huge misread by the software algorithm. Many of them remain free even today.
8. The AT&T Crisis
On January 15, 1990 around 60,000 AT&T customers were denied the luxury of making long distance calls. Initially the company believed it was being hacked until finally the real culprit was found in the form of a software bug.
The company updated its software to make the processes faster. Well, be careful what you wish for. The process became faster than expected and the server sent two messages to the subsequent server causing the switches to reboot in a loop. By the time the issue was taken care of, AT&T has lost $60 million in long distance charges for the dropped calls.