Catastrophes caused by a software bug

Technology is everywhere. Even if you’re a convinced Luddite and don’t accept anything more complicated than a clothespin, in our bustling, wired times, technology still has a direct impact on your life. The software controls the water supply to your home, controls the energy industry and even tracks the movement of subway trains.

Taking into account that all programs written by a human being can compromise, technologies become a source of danger for an individual. Society has been slapped by technology more than once, and more than twice, with too much carelessness about, say, nuclear decay or the impact of social networks on a particular region.

So, whether we like it or not, smart software has long controlled many aspects of our lives. A failure in its operation can have very unpleasant – if not catastrophic – consequences for humanity.

We can only hope that in the future computer errors will not cause victims comparable to those that have already survived the planet Earth in the past. We bring to your attention 6 most remarkable cases of computer “negligence”.

Space glitch

On 4 June 1996, the European Space Agency launched the Ariane family of launch vehicles designed to place payloads on a low support orbit. Launched from the Kourou launch site in French Guiana, the rocket exploded 37 seconds after takeoff, sowing debris around it. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Specialists suspected fuel leakage or electronics problems. But everything turned out to be much more prosaic: a bug in the control module software led to the self-destruction of the missile. Millions of euros were burned in the air because of an error in the code.

Failure worth a billion dollars

In 2013, the capitalization of the large investment company Knight Capital was several billion dollars. It was deservedly considered one of the most successful investment groups in the U.S. Nevertheless, in just half an hour its financial success turned into a memory: a computer program failure completely ruined the company.

Computers began to buy and sell millions of shares uncontrollably, while traders were helplessly knocking on the keys. In a fabulously short time, Knight Capital has lost half a billion dollars. The result of the failure was the drop of the company’s shares by 75% – in just 2 days the promising company has almost completely ruined.

Software medical error

In the 80s of the last century, at least 6 patients died one after the other from a large dose of X-ray radiation from the Therac-25 radiotherapy apparatus used in cancer treatment.

Some patients received tens of thousands of rad – all because of a software error in the control unit of the plant. It is noteworthy that the problem has not been noticed for several years. Experts who have studied the system have found that the failure was caused by an error in the code, as a result of which the program tried to execute the same command many times.

Instead of irradiation in medical doses, patients died of radiation overdose. This software bug is considered to have caused one of the worst effects in the history of computer use.

Thunderstorm in the retail network

In August 2014, for 45 minutes, Amazon’s servers, the world’s largest website for goods and services sold over the Internet, were inaccessible due to a power outage. Initially, the crash caused by a severe thunderstorm was compounded by numerous complications in the form of sudden software bugs, resulting in a cascading failure.

During the downtime the site lost about $5 million. Fortunately, the site is more than seriously approaching data security, so that ordinary users have not lost any money, or already paid, but not yet delivered orders.

Electronic darkness

What can a small, unnoticed error in General Electric Energy equipment monitoring software result in? In 2003, about a third of the U.S. states were left without any electricity at all. Not only were there no lights in the homes of citizens, but also in hospitals, schools, and train stations.

There were no computers in police stations, no air defense radars, and the planes could not get up from the runways. Worse, the control towers were silenced and the planes in the air could not land for several terrible hours.

A global cascading failure caused by an inconspicuous mistake caused one of the largest power outages in history.

Mass landing

Due to errors in flight control software discovered in 2013, American Airlines management had to return all of its aircraft to earth.

The failure occurred in the ticketing system when several airlines merged to form a single system. The problem with flight management came after an attempt to combine platforms written in different programming languages failed.