Worst Software BugsSome of History’s Worst Software Bugs

Software bugs can be a serious business, and some of the world’s worst software bugs have caused losses of security, money… and even human life.

Software bugs aren’t typically thought of as “dangerous” – many times, they’re viewed as more of a nuisance than anything else. Yet with more and more aspects of our lives controlled by software, a minor glitch can cause a huge problem. Here’s a look at some of history’s worst software bugs.

Explosions in the Sky

Sometimes it comes down to a single number. In the instance of the Ariane 5, a rocket launched by the European Space Agency, that number in the “inertial reference system” was larger than the 16-bit system could compute. The end result? Less than a minute after the rocket (which cost $7 billion in development) took off, it exploded spectacularly. The lesson here is clear. Check your math.

Lost in Space

Communication is key, especially when developing software. Unluckily for the ill-fated Mars Climate Orbiter, the lack of communication on the part of software developers led to the thrusters being more than 4 times more powerful than they needed to be. One of the engineering teams was working in English units of measurement, while the other was working with the metric system, causing the Mars Orbiter to become just another floating piece of technojunk in space.

The Death Machine

No fatalities occurred in either of the above instances, but unfortunately the same can’t be said for Canada’s Therac-25 radiation therapy machine. Six people were massively overdosed with radiation levels 100 times higher than what they should have been, resulting in three fatalities. The problem was a number of software glitches due to recycled software from similar machines.

Free Funds from Down Under

The idea of “free money” is certainly alluring, and so it was for dozens of Australians one fateful day when ATMs across Sydney began to spit out thousands of dollars. An undetected software bug caused the machines not to recognize the account limits of the individuals withdrawing cash. As expected, queues up to 30 people deep formed as people rushed forward to get their hands on some of the goods. Some even took to Twitter to talk about their good fortune! (Of course, Australian officials stated they planned to prosecute those who withdrew funds on fraud charges.

The Bottom Line About Software Bugs

The skinny on software bugs is this: like a “bug” that you catch from a friend, a small thing can pack a huge wallop. Although glitches aren’t uncommon in software development, the prevailing attitude of “measure twice, cut once” will ensure that a glitch will get out of control once a piece of software is put to public or private use. When it comes to safety, security, and mitigating financial loss, a bug in a program costs far less to catch early than it does to fix once it’s already wrought havoc.

These aren’t the only software bugs that have caused mass problems, however! Make sure you check out the below infographic from RankPop that details some other software bugs that have left prison cells unlocked, led to thousands of (virtual) deaths, and even caused people to be wrongfully arrested!

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Brandon William Peach is a writer across many topics, including religion, pop culture, literature, marketing, politics, human rights, and animal welfare. His work has been featured at RankPop, RELEVANT Magazine, Lure of Mac, I Think I Believe, Existimatum, and much more. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonPeach.

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