5 of the World’s Biggest IT Catastrophes

When we hear the word ‘catastrophe’ we usually think of natural disasters that can have devastating consequences on people’s lives. However, there are other sorts of catastrophes that may lead to massive financial expenses for companies and organisations. We’re talking IT disasters. Here’s a list of five major ones that cost the parties involved billions and billions of dollars.  

1.       Software bug nearly causes WWIII

This could’ve been a disaster with a capital D. In 1983 the Soviet early warning system incorrectly showed that the United States had launched five ballistic missiles. Luckily the duty officer for the system wasn’t easily fooled and reported it as a false alarm. He figured that if the U.S. was really going to attack the Soviet Union they would launch a lot more than only five measly missiles. This was all caused by a bug in the Soviet software that prevented the software to filter out false missile detections. 


2.       The AT&T network collapses

AT&T Inc. (originally the American Telephone and Telegraph Company) is an American multinational telecommunications corporation that in 1990 was to blame for 75 million unanswered phone calls across the United States. The reason for all this is one switch at one of AT&T’s 114 switching centres that suffered a minor mechanical error and shut down the centre. It doesn’t end here; when the centre was restored shortly after it sent a message to all the other centres that made them shut down and reset. The network collapse lasted for 9 hours, and cost many companies a lot of money – American Airlines alone lost 200,000 reservations during this period. Ouch.


3.       Black Monday

On the 19th of October in 1987 stock markets around the world crashed, beginning in Hong Kong, spreading west to Europe before reaching the United States. The most popular explanation for the crash was panic selling by program traders. However, there is no major news event released before the drop that could explain the panic selling. (Program trading is computerised simultaneous purchase and sale of many different stocks. Panic selling generated a flood of sell orders that overwhelmed the market and crashed systems.) Estimated cost for this dark Monday was US $500 billion.


4.       Ariane rocket self-destructs

In 1996 a software bug that has been called one of the most infamous and expensive bugs in history causes the Ariane 5 rocket to veer off its flight path on its maiden flight only 37 seconds after launch and to eventually self-destruct. The cargo consisting of a constellation of four scientific satellites was also destroyed, resulting in a loss of more than US $370 million. 


5.       The Year 2000 problem

Also known as the Y2K problem, the Millennium bug, the Y2K bug or just Y2K was a problem resulting from the practice of abbreviating a four-digit year to two digits in order to save computer storage space. That means 1999 is ‘99’ in computer language and 2000 ‘00’. Businesses worldwide feared that computers would interpret ‘00’ as 1900 instead of 2000, which would cause serious problems to their IT systems. Spending billions on programmers to fix this supposed issue might’ve been in vain as no significant failures was reported. (However, the true number of computer failures remains unknown due to the unwillingness of companies to report problems.)

Avoid your own IT catastrophe (albeit on a lesser scale) by calling us to discuss your current IT setup.

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