Software failures

Software Fail Watch, Q3 2017: Software Fails Are Bigger Than Ever

Beneath the soft surface of our everyday routines is a hard underpinning of technology. This is a fact we have known for a long time: our dependence on the software that oils the mechanics of our lives increases on a near daily basis. That’s a frightening thought, to which there really are only two productive responses:

A. Unplug and flee to an “off-the-grid” cabin in Siberia, or
B. Focus on quality and make sure the software works for us.

Being a software testing company, I’ll let you guess which was our response. ????

The Software Fail Watch for 2017 is marching right along, with the final report just around the corner.

We expected this year’s edition of the Software Fail Watch to be bigger and more dramatic than previous years. So far, the stats are confirming our hunch at every turn. The truth is, every edition of the Software Fail Watch will likely be more dramatic than the last, because, every year the software fails themselves become more dramatic. 

I’ll prove my point with a case study from Q3.

One of the categories into which we sort the stories we collect is labeled “Prominent Coverage.” The question we are asking is: How often did this story get picked up in the news cycles? Was it covered by one local paper, or re-distributed through national and international publications? How many unique articles can we find on this one story?

When you find a story that stays in the news cycle for days and weeks, being re-hashed and analyzed over and over by journalists who are keeping this incident in the forefront of the public awareness…then you have what we label a “Big Story.”

Big stories are the ones you will hear about even if you don’t follow tech news. And Q3 has had more “Big Stories” than any of the previous 15 quarters we have collected data on.

Here are some of the big ones:

The Equifax Social Security Hack

Equifax, one of the United States’ largest credit reporting agencies, announced that up to 143 million of their consumer records were stolen by hackers. Names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and credit card numbers were all amongst the data stolen. Given that the population of the United States clocks in at 321 million, that means that approximately 50% of Americans could now find themselves in danger of identity theft or worse. Though the hack took place in May 2017, Equifax hid the story until early September, further outraging the public. As details of the hack have emerged, it quickly became clear that much of the damage done was a result of vast negligence on Equifax’s part. Read more. 

HSE Software Glitch Reveals Errors in Over 25k Medical Scans

The Health and Safety Executive ministry of the United Kingdom disclosed a software bug that called into question the veracity of thousands of medical scans over the past 6 years. The buggy system, which is used widely in over 40 hospitals, threatens to invalidate the findings of over 25,000 X-Rays and ultrasounds, a mistake which could have led to misdiagnoses and over- or under-treatment. Once the discovery of the bug was made, the software manufacturer issued a worldwide alert, indicating that the glitch could be much more widespread than we even know.  Read more.

Provident Financial Stocks Tanks After Bug Disclosure

Provident Financial, a UK-based loan company that targets low-income customers, admitted that a software bug was keeping them from collecting debts and would result in a revenue loss of up to $158,256,000. In light of the announcement, Provident Financial’s stock price crashed, losing a whopping $2.2 Billion in market value in one day. The culprit of this enterprise disaster? A new appointment scheduling system intended to improve employee efficiency. Bugs in the scheduling system are arranging meetings at the wrong time, causing employees to miss meetings with their clients. This also places an estimated 800,000 vulnerable customers in jeopardy, many of whom rely on the support that Provident Financial provides to make ends meet. Read more. It is sobering to realize the toll that inadequately tested software can take. It is even more sobering to realize that the severity of a software bug’s overall impact is increasing.

There are several contributing factors to this.

1. Hacking or software fail stories are often rather sensational, tend to affect vast amounts of people, and make for great news segments. They are perfect news cycle fodder, and thus are becoming ubiquitous in the news. More people than ever are aware of the sheer volume of software they interact with daily.

2. The pace at which we develop and release software is constantly accelerating. This means that many companies are responding to the drive to “dream it first, build it bigger, release it faster” with powerful new software products. Without a mature continuous testing process in place, many companies’ quality assurance simply cannot keep up with the new pace of development.

3. More people are using software than ever. As Todd Pierce stated in his “What do CxOs Really Think About Testing” keynote at Accelerate 2017, a single engineer can now easily reach over 1 million users without spending a penny. The coupling of technology and globalization have made it easier to reach larger audiences than ever – which also means, that larger audiences than ever see your crash when your software doesn’t satisfy performance or functionality expectations.

These realities aren’t going anywhere. As we stated in the Software Fail Watch blog for Q2, this is simply our new normal. Rather than hiding in a cabin in Siberia however, there are real steps that software professionals can take to ensure the quality of their applications (check out the free trials of load testing and exploratory testing for Jira as a good start).

Software Fail Watch: Q2, 2017
Software Fail Watch: Q1, 2017
Software Fail Watch: 2016 in Review
Software Fail Watch 2016, Quarter Three
Software Fail Watch 2016, Quarter Two
Software Fail Watch 2016, Quarter One
Software Fail Watch: 2015 in Review
Software Failures of 2015: Quarter Three
Software Failures of 2015: Quarter Two
Software Failures of 2015: Quarter One


Check out our Tricentis Tosca factsheet today to see how you can make sure you never experience a newsworthy software failure.