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The biggest ever IT disasters in history

Steve Sutcliffe
By Steve Sutcliffe
In this blog post, we’re taking a look at some of the biggest ever IT disasters that have occurred in recent history. Here we go…
The biggest ever IT disasters in history
As the world becomes ever more reliant on information technology and digital infrastructure, it’s no surprise that we are also seeing an increase in the number of IT related disasters. This is no laughing matter either, as many of these disasters can be pretty disruptive and in the worse cases even fatal…

In 2012, Knight Capital Group fell victim to an error in their stock trading software algorithm. The glitch saw not hundreds, not even thousands but millions of unapproved trades being sent through, ultimately causing the company to lose a whopping $440 million in just 30 minutes. According to the experts at Bloomberg, that figure was more than the company’s market cap at the time and indeed, the stability of the entire firm was threatened as the company’s capital base was seriously affected. This just goes to show how the smallest of errors can cause the greatest of losses, in this case financial loss.

In 2011, it was the turn of Blackberry to suffer issues related to their technology. In this case more than 35 million Blackberry users were unable to access their emails or browse the web for a period of four days. The cause of all this inconvenience was a simple service outage but the impact was far greater than just a few unread emails. The outage cost Blackberry’s parent company a massive $54million and untold numbers of customers moved to other phone providers like Android and iPhone as the company’s reliability was thrown into disrepute. Today Blackberry is virtually obsolete.

Moving a little further back in time to 2005, when CDs were the music format of choice, it was discovered that some of Sony’s music CDs were secretly installing unwanted software – without the user’s permission – onto the computer or device the CD was being played on. In this case, the problem led to an enormous class action lawsuit and recall of the CDs. The problem with the CDs was discovered by a US programmer who initially spotted that the XCP software on Sony music CDs had installed copy restriction software on his computer. From there, Antivirus companies later discovered Trojan horse that exploited this software even further.

Moving on from the noughties and into the very early nineties, we arrived at January 15th 1990. The year when just one, one switch at one of AT&T’s 114 switching centres suffered a minor malfunction. The result of that minor malfunction was the temporary shut down of that entire switching centre. Not so bad perhaps, except that when the switching centre came up again, it then sent out a signal causing other centres to trip and reset before they also then sent out a similar effect. It worked just like ripples in a pond. In the end the centres crashed altogether and many of America’s biggest companies, CBS and American Airlines to name a few, were unable to function properly.

Last but by no means least on our list in the Northeast blackout of 1965. In this disaster it was the electrical cabling that caused serious disruption across America’s east coast. Here the problem was caused by the very infrastructure that was designed to prevent such power outages. This highlights a key issue when dealing with complex networks and IT infrastructure: sometimes these networks can be very difficult to predict and therefore plan around. In this case it was an inability to predict how a surging supply of energy in one location may affect other areas. The impact of this was a surge of power flowing back to New York, overloading generated and casting no less than 30 million people into complete darkness.

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