Top 10 IT Disasters of All Time

Remember Y2K? Though the millennium bug was not an IT disaster, it was a near disaster that affected the most number of people and businesses. Thus, Y2K made a list of the top 10 historic IT disasters.

The British online tech news service ZDNet.co.uk has published what it sees as the top 10 IT disasters of all time. Not surprising, the list is a bit European focused, but it serves as a guide to the major problems the IT world has faced.

1. A faulty Soviet early warning system nearly caused World War III. In 1983, a software bug in the Soviet system reported that the U.S. launched five ballistic missiles.

2. The AT&T network collapsed in 1990, caused by an error in a single line of code in a software upgrade. Some 75 million phone calls across the U.S. went unanswered.

3. An Ariane 5 rocket exploded shortly after liftoff in 1996. According to a New York Times Magazine article, the self-destruction was triggered by software trying to stuff "a 64-bit number into a 16-bit space."

4. Two partners used different and incompatible versions of the same software to design and assemble the Airbus A380 jetliner in 2006. When Airbus tried to bring together two halves of the aircraft, the wiring on one did not match the wiring in the other. That caused at least a one-year and very costly delay to the project.

5. Navigation errors doomed two spacecraft sent to explore Mars in 1998 when one NASA contractor used imperial units and another contractor employed metric units in the space crafts navigation systems.

6. The British Child Support Agency’s computer system operated by EDS overpaid 1.9 million people and underpaid some 700,000 in 2004, costing taxpayers over 1 billion pounds.

7. The two-digit year 2000 problem was more of a disaster avoided, except for the cost. Fixing the code, according ton one estimate, topped $825 billion.

8. When a Dell laptop exploded at a Japanese trade show in 2006, word of other laptop fires began to surface. Faulty batteries were blamed. Two recall programs for Dell and Apple cost battery maker Sony an estimated $185 million.

9. Some 500,000 British citizens discovered in the summer of 1999 that their new passports couldn’t be issued on time because the Passport Agency had brought in a new Siemens computer system without sufficiently testing it and training staff first. The British government had to pay millions in compensation, staff overtime and umbrellas for the poor people queuing in the rain for passports.

10. About 17,000 passengers found themselves stranded earlier this year at Los Angeles International Airport when a network card persisted in sending the incorrect data out across the network, causing a network failure and forcing aviation official to ground planes. Nobody could be authorized to leave or enter the U.S. through the airport for eight hours.

ZDNet did not include disasters that resulted in any deaths.

Did the list miss any big IT disasters?

-Courtesy Eric Chabrow from CIO Insight magazine

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