Well ladies and gentlemen, the planet continues to turn and applications continue to fail. The time has come yet again to look back at the last quarter and see which software bugs were disruptive enough to make the news. (Missed last quarter? You can find it here!) Unsurprisingly, certain sectors took a strong lead in the sheer volume of software errors (I’m looking at you Transportation and Government Services), but the most sensational stories this quarter had to do more with contributing circumstances than a particularly heinous software failure.
So let’s start by taking a look at the day when all of America’s politicians and conspiracy theorists collectively had a heart attack:
JULY 8TH, 2015
On the morning of July 8, so many enterprises reported prominent software malfunctions that United States Senators and the FBI began discussing whether it could all really be a coincidence. While some news sources reported up to 6 separate software failures (including the New York Subway system experiencing delays and 2,500 people in Washington D.C. losing power), there were three incidents that took center stage:
United Airlines was forced to ground 4,900 flights worldwide for over an hour due to a computer malfunction in the automation portion of their ticketing and reservation system. The glitch disabled the airline from being able to generate boarding passes, screen passengers, or confirm that all passengers had arrived. Though the system was back up and running within an hour, the ripple effect of so many delayed flights and disgruntled customers took significantly longer to sort out. Meanwhile…
The New York Stock Exchange placed a halt on all trading due to an undisclosed “internal technical issue”. All open orders were canceled with traders being promised that they would receive information as soon as possible. Responding to the conspiracy theories beginning to arise, the NYSE announced that their malfunction “was not the result of a cyber-breach.” The stock exchange opened again over 4 hours later. At the same time however…
Right around the time that the New York Stock Exchange ground to a halt, the website for the well-known financial news outlet “Wall Street Journal” went offline. Initially the website showed a 504 error, which was quickly replaced by a temporary homepage stating that the site was experiencing technical difficulties. The site was back to full functionality within an hour, though that was plenty of time to fan the sparks of conspiracy into flame.
The second event to cause a sensation this quarter was due to this investigative article published in Wired magazine:
For the article, the author had agreed to let two hackers remotely hijack his Jeep Cherokee, including taunting the him through the digital display, taking control of the radio, windshield wipers, steering, disabling brakes, and more – all through the Sprint cellular network installed in the car. The story, which included video evidence of the hackers taking control of the vehicle, rightfully caused a stir. The article went viral and was republished on multiple news sites. Thankfully the hackers, a pair of researchers, have shared their information with Fiat Chrysler, who initially responded by releasing a patch to protect vulnerable cars. Despite Fiat Chrysler’s assurances to vehicle owners however, the company decided a few days later to recall almost 1.5 million vehicles.
Not all of the software failures this quarter caused such panic – though many of the stories are no less dramatic.
Speaking of hackers, Microsoft released an emergency software patch this July to nearly all of their operating systems. The security flaw was discovered by security researchers, a critical vulnerability buried in the coding of Microsoft’s handling of font files that could allow for hackers to forcefully take over a computer’s operating system. Such a vulnerability exposes millions of Microsoft computers to becoming a hacker’s playground, within nothing barring thieves from stealing data, illicitly installing software, and more.
It hasn’t been such a good run for CareFusion, a medical equipment manufacturer who has experienced several emergency recalls in recent years. In late May, CareFusion’s Alaris Pump was recalled over a software error that caused the pump, designed to automatically deliver medicine and fluids to hospital patients, to delay an infusion. The consequences, which can range anywhere from medicine being withheld at critical points or accidental over-dosing, can be deadly. Just four days later CareFusion issued a Class I recall over a separate line of ventilators, citing a software flaw that could cause the patient to suffocate.
They had only intended to admit 9 boys to Britain’s most prestigious preparatory school, whose alumnus includes Prince William and British Prime Minister, David Cameron. Instead, a “systems error” caused a conditional acceptance letter to be sent to 400 families. The mistake was reportedly caught within minutes, though it left the college with the difficult task of personally contacting hundreds of excited families to break the news.
This past July the personal data of visa applicants from over 45 countries was leaked through VFS Global, a visa services company that contracts for international governments. Two technology consultants, themselves visa applicants through VFS Global, discovered the issue when they realized they could input an arbitrary application number and pull up an applicant’s personal information including their name, address, date of birth, passport number, and more. The consultants reported the problem to VFS, though after 15 hours with no response, the pair made the move to publicize the story via news channels. The data leak was no “glitch” in their opinion, rather just the result of gross negligence on VFS Global’s part regarding the security of the user’s personal data. VFS Global countered these accusations by resolving the issue and claiming that the leak was limited to applicants applying for Italian visas.
An elderly Australian woman hit the jackpot this July, only to have it taken away from her. The 82-year-old won a $65,054 jackpot at the Goodna Services Club, however upon reporting her winnings to the club, was informed that a jackpot of that size, on that particular machine, was impossible. As the game was allegedly designed to not exceed jackpots over the $10,000 mark, it was determined that the win must have been due to a software glitch – giving the casino a free pass on paying out the winnings. As would be expected, there has been a public outcry in the local community over the casino depriving an elderly lady of her winnings and the story could very well make its way to court in the near future.
And yet again, the threat of hacking makes the news. Mobile security researchers discovered a flaw in Google’s android software that allows hackers to hijack an Android phone simply by sending the device a media message. Dubbed “Stagefright”, the message does not even need to be opened for the bug to take effect, exposing over 950 million devices to the possibility of having data stolen, cameras and microphones switched on and recorded, and more – all just by having access to the device’s mobile number.
On another, less serious note, Kanye West, music’s current L’Enfant Terrible, experienced a microphone failure at one of his recent concerts. In true West fashion, the rapper responded by throwing a fit, smashing the microphone on stage, and storming off. Can’t say we’re too broken up by that one.
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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.