10 Huge IT Disasters from Recent History

Whether it is related to technology or human error, defective hardware and software has taken its toll on various organizations, reputation-wise and financially.

Here is a list of what we believe to be 10 absolutely huge IT disasters from recent history!

1. 1983 Near miss by Soviets for WWIII

The Soviet’s Early Warning System advised them that five ballistic missiles had been launched by the United States. However, a perceptive duty officer for the system, claimed he reasoned that should the USA were actually launching and attack, more than 5 missiles would be employed.

The cause of this close disaster was detected and found to be a defect in software, designed to filter false missile detections created by satellites misinterpreting reflections caused by sunlight from the top of cloud cover.

2. 1996 Ariane 5 explosion

During this year the Ariane 5, Europe’s latest unmanned satellite-launching rocket carrying a set of four scientific satellites was deliberately exploded only seconds after lift-off for its maiden flight from Kourou, French Guiana. It was designed for the study of magnetic field interaction between Earth and the Solar Winds.

The self-destruction action was reportedly activated by software attempting to convert a piece of data to a 16-bit format from 64-bit, resulting in an overflow error. The costs of this particular enterprise was over $8 billion for development, but aboard Ariane 5, was an investment in the satellites, of $500 million!

Previous concepts of Science Fiction are increasingly being accepted as part of present day reality. Our IT consulting company in Los Angeles is continually updating their innovative cost effectiveness and operation efficiency!

3. 2006 Incompatible software in Airbus A380

In 2006, two organizations, one from France and the other from Germany, were contracted to supply the CATIA software. While the French system utilized the latest version of the program, the German version, was outdated. Accordingly when Airbus was combining the two halves of the aircraft, the differences in the software created a situation in which the wiring on one did not match the other.

Although the problem was eventually rectified, it was at an undisclosed cost that put the project back, at least one year or more.

4. 2004 Child Support Agency disaster

IT giant Electronic Data Systems (EDS) were alleged to have significantly contributed to this disaster in the UK and their Child Support Agency (CSA). The CS2 computer system by some means, underpaid about 700,000 people, but overpaid about 1.9 million grateful citizens. The result was a bill for the taxpayers of more than £1 billion and the devastation of the CSA.

5. 1990 AT&T Network collapses

One of the AT&T switching centers experienced a relatively minor problem, causing a complete shut down. However, on service being restored, a message was automatically sent to other centers, causing them to shutdown and reset. The reason for this was an error in a line of code, added during a complex upgrading of software. It was a minor error that lost American Airlines alone, about 200,000 reservations.

6. 2006 Exploding laptops

A Dell laptop burst into flames at a trade show in Japan and although there had been rumors regarding laptops, this occasion gave it full publicity. A spokesperson reported the problem had been traced and it related to an issue with the battery/power supply on that particular laptop, which overheated and caught fire. Dell prudently decided it would be wise to recall and replace about 4.1m laptop Sony batteries.

Apple also reported issues for iPods and Macbooks and other suppliers reported the same. Reports indicated that Matsushita alone had to recall about 54 million devices. It was estimated by Sony at the time, the overall cost of support for the recall programs of Apple and Dell would be in the region of ¥20-30 billion.

7. 1999-2000 Double Digit Year (Y2K)

Various disasters were predicted by many IT sources, but in the end, there were none! Despite predictions of this computer doomsday and the devastation it would provoke, the powers that be kept to the original double digits program. As a result, it has been estimated that $ billions were spent to avoid the Millennium Bug, that didn’t happen.

8. 1998 Mars climate observation

The Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander were spacecraft in a program designed to study the weather on planet Mars, including the climate, water and carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. However, a sub-contractor used the American imperial units, as opposed to the NASA specified European metric units.

The result was that a navigation error occurred, causing the Polar Lander to fly low in the atmosphere and be destroyed.

9. 2007 Flights grounded in LA

A network card was determined to be responsible for about 17,000 aircraft being grounded at Los Angeles International Airport. The card instead of shutting down as it should, allegedly kept sending incorrect data across the network.

The result was that data kept flooding out until striking the complete network of the United States Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) agency, bringing it to a complete halt. Accordingly, no person for about 8 hours could be authorized to enter or leave the USA.

10. 1999 Siemens computer system strikes out

Summer holiday time in the UK and about 500,000 British citizens discovered their new passports could not be issued on time. The reason was that the Passport Agency had introduced a new Siemens computer system, but without testing it thoroughly and training their staff first.

With a vast number of disappointed people missing out on their holidays, the Home Office was forced to pay £ millions in compensation. The reason for an unexpectedly high demand for passports was that the law had recently been changed and for the first time, all children under the age of 16 years needed a passport if they were traveling abroad.

Many of these disasters serve as perfect reminders that information technology is not perfect, just like people. Preventing them takes careful thought, and in some cases, a viable business continuity plan.

Either way, it’s clear that disasters like these will continue to happen as long as we lack the dilligence (and sometimes common sense) to mitigate them.

Related: How to Handle Server Crashes