Over the past few years, our society has come more reliant on software than ever before. While the world has learned a lot from past software bugs and mistakes, there have been quite a few software failures over the past few decades that deserve some special attention. It is of the utmost importance to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.
#6 Microsoft Zune
On December 31, 2008, the Microsoft Zune community received a rather unexpected surprise. All of the Zune media players showed users an error message, indicating something was wrong with the hardware. This message would show up as soon as people booted up their device. Thankfully, Microsoft managed to isolate the bug and resolve it. As it turns out, this bug would only cause issues on the last day of a leap year. Sloppy coding, according to some experts.
#5 NASA Mars Climate Orbiter
Even though Mars exploration is still relatively new, NASA’s efforts date back all the way to the 1990s. In September of 1999, the Mars Climate Orbiter suffered from a massive software issue resulting in a US$125m price tag. Communication between Earth-based engineers and the probe fell short, resulting in the Orbiter being sent crashing too low into the Martian atmosphere. To this date, the machine has not been heard from, let alone recovered.
#4 USS Yorktown
Submarines are filled to the brim with technological equipment, making them somewhat prone to mishaps. For the USS Yorktown, that incident occurred in September of 1997. One of the sysadmins fed bad data into the ships’s Remote Database Manager, causing a buffer overflow. All LAN-connected computers crashed as a result, and the submarine lost control of all propulsion systems. Thankfully, the issue was resolved relatively quickly, despite several hours of downtime.
#3 Knight’s Capital
A firm specialized in executing trades for retail brokers should never suffer significant financial losses from a software incident. Unfortunately for Knight’s Capital, they lost US$440m in 2012 due to a bug in the new trading algorithm being tested on the platform. In the end, the new algorithm bought at the market price, matching all “ask” prices and reselling at the bid price. The company ended up on the brink of insolvency as a result.
#2 LA Airport Air-Traffic Control
Air traffic controllers in Los Angeles lost voice communications with over 400 plans on September 14, 2004. With planes heading towards each other due to the lack of communication, panic broke out. The primary voice communication of the LA Airport Air-Traffic Control tower shut down all of a sudden, and the backup system crashed shortly after. Apparently, the primary system required one reset every 30 days, yet for some reason, that maintenance check had not happened during that month.
Between June 1985 and January 1987, a software bug caused a computer-controlled radiation therapy machine to malfunction. A total of six people were massively overdosed, resulting in three deaths. Machines such as the Therac-25 were used to destroy tumors with minimal support on the surrounding healthy tissue. Unfortunately, advancements in the medical sector sometimes come at a price that is far too steep.
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