Software failures

Software Failures of 2014: Government Edition

All branches of the government and public sector rely on software to manage and analyze the massive amounts of data they collect on a daily basis. With each department managing thousands to millions of people’s data and individual needs, it is no surprise that a public sector institution requires a robust software system.Whether the task is allocating welfare and medical assistance checks on a monthly basis, collating and processing travel visa applications, or properly tallying votes to determine the outcome of an election, software lies at the heart of every organization’s ability to fulfill their duties to their public. Unfortunately however, all of this means that a breakdown in the software can bring crucial public services grinding to a halt.

Here at Tricentis, to say that we “understand” the need for software testing would be an understatement. Software testing is who we are; our bread and butter, both science and art form. For every test that goes well however, is another that reveals pinprick holes that can escalate into gaping fissures in the system. The goal of software testing is to root out those pinprick issues before they become problems that collapse a system.

The year 2014 left us with a multitude of stories of software failures and their repercussions. Earlier we looked at software glitches from within the Finance world; today we take on the ever-present software tragicomedies of Government.

Software Glitch in Traffic Radar Over-Penalizes Drivers

The National Police Directorate of Tirol, Austria, announced in early 2014 that an error in the traffic radar software had resulted in excess fines to over 2000 drivers. The software malfunction, which reportedly persisted for over a month before being fixed, was quickly rectified, though the police department found themselves in an administrative frenzy refunding and adjusting the penalties. Source

Breakdown in Canadian Government Database Leave Thousands Without Assistance

A Canadian government database malfunction halted assistance to thousands of British Columbia citizens this past May. The software program, which was installed two years ago at a cost of $182 million to the British Columbian government, integrates case management from several overlapping departments. The software issue, which was described vaguely as “intermittent slowdowns” prevented thousands of people from receiving help in the form of welfare, income, and medical assistance. Source

Inmates Mistakenly Released From Prison Due to Software Glitch

Texas police officials found themselves facing criticism after over 20 inmates were mistakenly released from prison due to a software error. The Dallas police force allegedly transitioned to a new software system in early June that contained errors within the electronic record database. As a result, inmates with improperly input records were released before the police were able to rectify the error. The Dallas police force assured the public that they were searching for the released inmates for re-incarceration.

Arizona Residents Receive New Driver’s License and a Surprise

Arizona state residents found themselves at a loss when they received their renewed driver’s license in the mail…only to find the wrong face looking back at them. According to reports, a software malfunction at the Arizona Motor Vehicle Department caused the new license images to be attached to the wrong profiles, resulting in in receiving a license that contained all the correct information – except the picture.

U.S. Visa Application Process Halted Worldwide Due to Software Malfunction

The Consular Consolidated Database, from which American consulates and embassies all over the world access the information required for granting U.S Visas, experienced software glitches over the course of several weeks this past August. The U.S. State Department quickly rejected the idea that the software outage was a result of cyber-attacks, admitting that when they had issued a software patch to the system, it only made the problem worse. Operations were restored after a 3 day outage, however over 200 consulates globally found themselves still unable to fulfill one of their most common daily tasks.

The Bar Exam in Trouble with Law Students Over Software

In August of 2014 thousands of law students across America clicked “submit” on their completed Bar Exam only to find the software portal rejecting their submission. Compounding the student’s stress were the strict deadlines enforcing the acceptance of their test. News began to spread via Twitter that the issue was due to ExamSoft, the software responsible for handling the Bar Exam submissions, which was being overloaded as students raced to beat the deadline. Though the Bar opted to extend the deadline in many states, ExamSoft now faces a number of lawsuits filed by angry would-be lawyers.

Traffic Tickets Nullified Due to Software Glitch

Drivers in Ireland’s Clare County found themselves rejoicing as a software glitch nullified parking tickets distributed during a heavily trafficked public event. The traffic warden reported noticing that the electronic ticketing machine was issuing tickets backdated 10 years before switching to writing manual tickets. The Clare County Council opted to discount the incorrectly dated tickets, much, we imagine, to the glee of the ticket holders. Source

Galileo Satellite Lands in Wrong Place Due to Software Error

The European Union Galileo satellite’s failure to reach its intended orbit has been blamed on a software error, as reported by Sputnik news. The Russian Space Agency suspected that an incorrect flight assignment was recorded into the software, an embarrassing mistake on the part of the Russian government-owned corporation responsible for designing the software. As a result the satellite reached its final destination at a significantly lower orbit than intended. Source

Canadian Local Election Delayed by Error in Tabulation Software

Local elections in New Brunswick, Canada, ran into delays caused by the software used to tabulate the votes. While the tabulation machines reportedly worked as planned, the software used to collect the data from the various tabulation machines throughout New Brunswick malfunctioned, creating a substantial delay in the election results. Though the results of the election were eventually published, the circumstances cast a shadow of doubt on the election, with certain disgruntled parties calling for a manual recount. Source

Bug in Ontario Government Software Nearly Results in $20 million in Overpayments

A glitch in the Ontario government social assistance software nearly caused over $20 million in overpayments to be made. Much to the relief of the Ontario government, the error was corrected before the $20 million was paid out, however $300,000 did slip through the cracks. Beyond the inconvenience and near disaster of the malfunction, it’s easy to imagine the worst part of the situation is having to ask for the money to be returned. Source

Drivers in India Unable to Receive Smart Cards for Their Vehicles

Thousands of drivers in Mumbai, India, found themselves waiting to receive their registration certificates for their vehicles. The delay has been attributed to the inability to generate the list of owners due to a transition to a new software program. While the government assured the drivers that their smart cards were on the way, the problem hinged on the simple inability to access the postal addresses of the drivers to mail them their cards. Source

Software Coding Error Prevents Thousands from Reaching 911 in Emergencies

In April of 2014, 911 emergency hotlines fell dark for millions of Americans across 7 states of the U.S. The life endangering malfunction was traced to software in the third-party call routing center for the 911 hotline. Investigations revealed that the software had a single line of code that caused the calls for help to bottleneck after the 40 millionth call. As a result, every person calling 911 after the 40 millionth found their calls dropped and cries for help unheeded. The system was offline for six hours in some places and 8 in others, though there is no way to tell the true extent of the damage caused by the breakdown. Source

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Tricentis Tosca specializes in enabling large enterprises to improve the quality of their applications by equipping them to optimize, manage, and automate their software testing.