Epic failures: 11 infamous software bugs

Celebrate 'Debugging Day' by remembering these monster problems from the past

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Page 7
Page 7 of 7

End-of-the-world bugs

Remember how the world descended into nuclear oblivion on Sept. 23, 1983? No? Well, thank your lucky stars -- this is a tale of bugs so major they could have brought the entire world to a standstill.

It was all averted by the common sense of one individual, who ignored the Soviet early-warning system's faulty reports of incoming missiles and didn't launch a counterattack on the United States.

The warning system set off klaxons at half past midnight on that September morning. Apparently, the U.S. had launched five nuclear missiles toward what the U.S. president had taken to calling "the Evil Empire."

At the time, Lt. Col. Stanislaus Petrov reasoned his way to a decision not to respond: The USSR was in a shouting match with the U.S. about a Soviet attack on Korean Air Lines Flight 007 three weeks earlier, but it was only a rhetorical battle at that stage. Besides, if the U.S. wanted to attack the Soviet Union, would it really launch only five missiles?

Petrov ordered his men to stand down, and 15 minutes later, radar outposts confirmed that there were no incoming missiles. The decision took less than five minutes, it was confirmed within half an hour, and the world remained at peace.

When the early-warning system was later analyzed, it was found to have more bugs than a suburban compost heap -- which meant that although Stanislaus Petrov had saved the world, he'd made a serious error of judgment: He had shown up the incompetence of Soviet programmers.

This was not good for morale, or for the lieutenant colonel. He was cold-shouldered into an early retirement and was largely unsung until May 21, 2004, when a San Francisco-based organization called the Association of World Citizens bestowed its highest honor -- world citizenship -- and a financial reward on him.

Now it's your turn -- tell us your bug tales in the reader comments.

Matt Lake is familiar with quality control systems and auditing, but he is also writing a science book that includes a subchapter on entomology, making him a bug connoisseur in more ways than one.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Page 7
Page 7 of 7
IT buyer's guide to business projectors
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon