The Software Soft Spot and How Software Bugs Exploit It

SoftwareSuggest

SoftwareSuggest

Senior editor

Parul Saxena

Chief editor

Last updated: June 7, 2021

Most of us have heard of software failures being described as a bug. We likely also know that there must be more than one bug type and that each has a separate defect meaning. Types of bugs vary wildly as does the damage they cause. Some might have no real harm done at the end of the day. Others might spark an entire movement to patch the hole and get everything fixed. There have even been lives lost to these software bugs.

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How Software Gets Spoilt Due to its Bugs

  • Y2K

This is perhaps the most known and widespread bug in the history of computing. It’s also the one where people feel like disaster was narrowly avoided. As the year 1999 began to draw to a close, it was noticed that computers (and anything running off of computers) weren’t programmed to roll over to the year 2000. Instead, they would add another digit throwing the entire computing world into anarchy. In the end, Y2K compliance was ensured, and no harm was done.

bugs_clear

The percentage of software bugs normally cleared before publishing and the comparison between top tech companies and the standard rate is stated above. The top tech company has marked an improvement of 90%, rather than the standard 80%.

  • Data Overdoses

However, not all software bugs are harmless. In fact, sometimes, having software full of errors and failures can result in lives being lost. Just after Y2K, a radiation therapy clinic in Panama City found this out the hard way. Due to several bugs in the code, some patients were given massive doses of radiation outside of what is considered to be safe. The results were five patients deaths immediately, and many more as the years passed.

  • False Positives

The absolute worst outcome of a bug almost happened in 1983. This was when computers and similar technologies were still fairly new and mostly used by the military and scientists. In this case, the Soviets received a warning that the US had launched five missiles at Russia. The standard response was to fire them back. 

However, Lt. Col. Petrov stood his ground against this. Though he could not know it then, he had saved the world:  The missiles from the US had been a false positive and didn’t exist. If the Cold War was the Civil Rights Movement, Petrov was Malcolm X contributing greatly to peace (or, in the latter case, civil rights). The whole essay or even a dissertation could be written on his valor.

  • Database Hacking

One of the most common database languages used is SQL. The entire purpose of this coding language is to store information to be called back later safely. Many industries use this, from business to medical to government agencies. So it was frightening when it was found that, without the proper security, someone could type a particular string of characters into the login field and have access to all of the information stored. This has mostly been patched over, but some less secure websites still fall prey to this glitch.

causes_bugs

The percentages of common causes of catastrophic software failures can be seen above. Human error is the most likely cause.

  • Human Error

The last and absolute most difficult bug to remedy will always be human error. Though not traditionally labeled a bug, it’s still what causes most of the bad results of the software. A simple case of mistyping something can result in a hospital patient receiving the wrong treatment or medications in lethal amounts. It can also result in the information being leaked from private servers onto more readily accessible ones. Even away from a computer and a keyboard, telling someone a password can result in catastrophic consequences. And these are just a few examples.

There are more types of software bugs than we could even imagine. However, they have had stark impacts on human history and on the rights as well as lifestyles that we lead today. From narrowly avoiding WW3 to the tragic deaths of cancer patients, a simple computer bug can change lives irrevocably.

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