The 5 Worst Software Flops of All Time

by Tori Johnson on June 6, 2011

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The 5 worst software flops of all time

We love to complain about software. It’s second only to the weather on most office hit-lists. And while there are lots of examples of present software glitches and headaches, we thought instead of slamming specific companies, it would be more interesting to take a look at a half-dozen more historical software flubs, flops, and failures that truly changed history:

1962: A funny thing happened on the way to Venus…
This is an example of one of the earliest bits of computer code, which – unfortunately for the Mariner 1 space probe it was written for – is not transferred accurately from paper-and-pencil. This causes Mariner 1’s onboard computer to miscalculate the probe’s trajectory away from Earth, causing it to veer off-course and forcing NASA to destroy it over the Atlantic Ocean.

1988-1996: Kerberos’ not-so-random-number generator
When writing the code for this security system, authors neglect to properly “seed” the program’s random number generator with an actually random seed. For eight years then, as a result, it becomes possible to break into any computer that relies on this system for security authentication.

1990: Please hang up and try your call again…
A bug in the sparkly-new release of software that controls AT&T’s #4ESS long distance switches causes computers to crash when they get a specific message from one of their next-door machines. (Ironically, the message is a report sent out when one of the computers legitimately crashes.) After 60,000 people are left without long-distance service for most of the work-day, software engineers stomp over the sparkly new code with the previous release.

1995/1996: The Blue Ping of Death
A lack of “sanity checks” and “error handling” in code makes it possible to crash all sorts of systems by sending an abnormal “ping” packet to Windows-based computers, which then lock up and display the ever-loved “blue screen of death”.

1996: Mon Dieu!
Working code for France’s Ariane 4 rocket is reused in the Ariane 5. That may have normally been fine and good, were it not that Ariane 5’s faster engines then trigger a flight computer math bug that converts “a 64-bit floating-point number to a 16-bit signed integer.” The faster engines cause the 64-bit numbers to be larger in the Ariane 5 than in the Ariane 4, triggering an overflow set of circumstances that results in the flight computer crashing and over-throttling the engines…followed by the crashing of rocket itself, 40 seconds after launch.

More:
Software News Daily’s list of the 20 worst pieces of software of all time
http://www.softwarenewsdaily.com/2010/11/top-20-worst-software-programs-of-all-time

PC Mag’s list of the 10 worst software disasters
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,1636333,00.asp

PC World’s list of the 10 worst operating systems of all time
http://www.pcworld.com/article/162866-3/the_10_worst_operating_systems_of_all_time.html

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