Top Costliest Software Failures in the History

In the current age, software testing is become a necessity, because as human or machine, everyone makes mistakes and these mistakes are expensive or also sometimes cost lives as well. Let’s get an example, you’re cooking a dish and your taste that every time to ensure your dish tastes good and so you add extra things to make it perfect. The same thing happens with software as well. Whenever you’re making software, you always need to be sure that whatever you‘re building builds perfectly.

More here – Why Software Testing?

Here we are going to look at some of the big costliest software failure chaos which causes the waste of millions of money, reputation, and lives as well.

Mars Climate Orbiter by NASA: In December 1998, On the mission to Mars NASA has sent a spacecraft to study its climate, atmosphere, and changes on the surface. It was late that they found the spacecraft has lost in space. As it confused NASA about the problem later revealed the problem was due to the failed translation of English units into metric units in a segment of ground-based, navigation-related mission software. The problem causes the spacecraft to orbit across Mars at a low speed of 4.7kmps. It was later found it rushed to the sun orbit. The failure costs NASA about 193 million USD.

Cost of Failure: $193 Million

Intel Pentium FDIV bug: In 1994, Thomas Nicely, a professor of mathematics at Lynchburg College, noticed some problems in calculations. It was found just after the Pentium installed on the system. He reported the issue to Intel, the person from Intel claimed the problem may be caused by the user once in 27000 years. Later in few days, many unsatisfied customers reported more of the same issue and so Intel comes up with the reason that the issue faced once in 24 days! After this Intel replaced the defective processor with a new processor. Intel announced it costs them about 475 million USD.

Cost of Failure: $475 Million

The First Worm Attack: In 1988, a computer project developed by a graduate student, Morris at Cornell University to make computer security better. A small coding error caused the experiment to wrong and cause worm attack all over the internet and crashed thousand of computer systems. In the trial, the lawyer said it was supposed to be harmless computer software for improving security, though Morris fined 10000 USD for the hacking offence. Later accused Morris has founded a startup Y Combinator and now working as a professor at MIT. The code which caused about 100 Million USD loss is still on the disk at the University of Boston.

Cost of Failure: $100 Million

Ariane 5 Flight 501 launch: In June 1996, Europe planned to launch a rocket with the satellite, the plan is to reuse the inertial reference platform from the Ariane 4 – their previous mission. On launch, after about 36 seconds the rocket explodes in the air. After the investigation, they found the bug was a small software failure that wasn’t found in previous models. The bug caused the rocket to go into self-destruct mode because the computer tried to fit the 64-bit number in a 16- bit number. That caused the overflow problem in the system and that caused the system failure and went to self-destruction. The cost of the failure was counted as 8 million USD.

Cost of Failure: $370 Million

Ariane 5 Flight 501 launch – 

Mariner 1 Software Failure: Mariner 1 was the first aircraft from America which was planned to use to collect the data from Venus. In 1962, when it launched in just 5 minutes one officer asked to make it self-destruction due to a software error that caused it to turn reverse and crash into the earth. NASA has to self-destruct it due to the rocket was crashing into the earth. The cause of the failure was later found that the omission of the hyphen in the computer code caused the incorrect guide to the spacecraft. The cost announced later was 18 million USD from NASA.

Cost of Failure: $18 Million

The opening of the Heathrow Terminal: Heathrow Terminal 5 opening was announced and this time the system baggage handling system was checked and tested properly. The testing was done based on the amount of baggage was passing to the airport. It was tested with more than 10000 pieces of luggage and tested perfectly. It was working perfectly as the system engineers have said. On the opening day when the luggage has been dropped on the system, it could not cope and crashed. The later problem revealed, they tested some real-life scenario to remove the bag manually, but the system has confused and crashed. After this, for 10 days more than 40000 bags were failed to travel and about 500 flights were cancelled due to this problem. That costs the reputation of them.

Cost of Failure: Flights delayed & losing the reputation

Knight’s trading error: In 2012, American Trading saw the bad day in history, a market-making firm Knights software failure caused the trading of 440 million USD in just 30 minutes. At the start of the day at 9:30, the knight software started to trade about 150 shares on the market. The unintended shares trade cost company lost 75% of shares due to faulty software. The CEO Thomas Joyce said “All hands on deck and will fix this large bug!” but the damage was done already to the market. If it wasn’t stopped that time, it would be a complete disaster on the American market. Knight’s lost the valuation of their shares and also the reputation in the American market.

Cost of Failure: $440 Million

Patriot Missile Failure: During the Gulf war in 1991, a US Patriot missile defence system failed to track an Iraqi missile coming to the American Barracks. In the investigation, they found it was a miss calculation that caused the inaccurate tracking and it went worse as time passed. It was said the system was working more than 100 hours and which caused the calculation more problem to find the missile attacks. 28 American soldiers were killed and about 100 wounded. The bug was fixed later but couldn’t much do with the lives lost due to the software failure.

Cost of Failure: 28 Soldiers life and more than 100 causalities

Soviet Gas Pipeline Explosion: It was called the largest non-nuclear explosion in the world’s history. In 1982, The Soviet worked with a Canadian company for the design pipeline software which was very complex said that time. It was found the US CIA added a Trojan Horse software virus to the gas pipeline software and make sure the Soviet receive a harmful software program. Later using the software caused a massive explosion in the pipeline due to the bug. The hey-wire parts in the pipeline and pressure in the pipeline caused the explosion which can also be seen from the space!

Cost of Failure: Not known but it was called a largest non-nuclear explosion in the world’s history.

EDS’s Child Support system: In 2004, the UK’s Child Support Agency (CSA) has received one Child Support System and on the other side the DWP – Department of the Work & Pension started to reconstruct their system without knowing about the compatibility. Incompatibility between systems caused the system errors and the system has overpaid about 1.9 million users and underpay about 700,00 users as well. Not that enough it had $7 billion in uncollected child support payments, a backlog of 239,000 cases, 36,000 new cases “stuck” in the system. The fault of the incompatibility caused them about over 1 billion USD.

Cost of Failure: $1 Billion USD


The well known blue screen failure (or death) display when Bill Gates launching Plug & Play technology on Windows 98 system.

Rahul R

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