Software Bugs: Instances Where they Prove To be Too Costly

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There is no software tester that can escape software bugs. How can they miss them when that is what they usually look for?

If you have been doing some reading on software testing. You must have been coming across words like software errors, bugs, software bugs, software defects, etc.

Maybe at a point in your curiosity, you stopped to think the following;

“What are these bugs about?” or more specifically, “What are these software bugs?”

What impacts do they have on software products and the users?

This is the essence of this blog post. To help you answer these questions and more. This blog post will also explore other important areas of software bugs.

What are Software Bugs?

Software testers spend much of their time evaluating the program to find and fix bugs. This helps them reduce or eliminate a lot of errors and enables the creation of software that meets user requirements.

According to TotalView software bugs are technical errors, flaws, or faults in any software application. To the tech writers, these errors usually make the application misbehave and “produce unintended or unexpected results.” In many cases, these unexpected results can include “crashing or producing invalid results.”

Discussing software bugs, Jash Unadkat who is a BrowserStack community contributor “No code is perfectly crafted at its first go”. In other words, bugs are coming in software programs. However, they must not be tolerated and must be quickly eradicated.

Software bugs can exist in a software program but are invisible, yet causing serious issues to users. They can be very annoying and can facilitate a loss of confidence in your product or business by your customers.

This is why we do not want them at all.  According to Headchannel, to keep our software products safe, “all of them should be spotted and fixed in the early stages of the software development process.”

What are the Causes of Software Bugs?

There are many causal factors of bugs in software. But the most common are, programming or code errors, the complexity of the software, and communications.

Also, there are issues of unclear requirements, tight deadlines as well and bug-tracking errors from testers.

Your software program may also have documentation errors when your software development process does not conform to regulations and standards.

10 Instances of Too Costly Software Bugs in History

The 1990 Software Bugs in the AT&T Crisis

This is an event that took place as far back as the early 1990s but is popularly remembered as a dangerous crisis caused by bugs. The sadness even led to the denial of about 60,000 AT£T customers from making any long-distance calls. What made it even more dramatic was that at the initial phase of the crisis, the company thought it was an attack. Until they evaluated their system and found a bug.

Why is this a costly software bug?

It is very costly because the company lost trust, customers and their brand image were at stake. We cannot put a price on the cost of losses but here it was: The New York Times said about some damages caused; They are certainly embarrassed and apologetic after the company’s “biggest long-distance breakdown ever.” The company later “suggested that it might make restitution to some victims and may offer all customers one day of discounted rates.”

This embarrassment came right after the company had spent a huge number of resources to make reliability its core value. But a bug crashed that to the ground. It is so bad that many customers reassess their choice of making the brand their number one choice.

The 2003 Software Bug Triggered Blackout in the North East United States and Canada

When this happened, it shocked everyone as much as affected a lot of people. The news carried that eight states were affected and then Canada too. Approximately, the impact fell on at least 50 million people in the affected areas.

It takes some time for the company in charge to figure out the cause of the problem. But when they finally did, they declared that it was caused by a bug, describing it as a “race condition bug”.

Why is this a costly software bug?

The United States Computerworld, through Dan Verton, has a report on this. With a bold title “Software failure cited in August blackout investigation”. For of all, the write-up admits that the blackout spread across “most of the Northeast corridor of the U.S. and parts of Canada”


Minkel in 2008 with an article, The-2003-Northeast-Blackout—Five-Years-Later claims heavy losses. “The event contributed to at least 11 deaths and cost an estimated $6 billion.”

Since the US is a target for many terrorist organisations, there were also fears of terrorist attacks. So not only did the software bugs put 50 million people into darkness, it led to loss of lives and money. Pause causes fear of terror among consumers.

Certainly, this is one of the most expensive software errors in history.

The Role of Software Bugs in NASA’s Faulty Mars Climate Orbiter

NASA is one of the most respected scientific organisations in the world. They have led several global impactful research for the benefit of mankind and our environment. But when they slept during their testing activities, they got seriously embarrassed by Software bugs. Yes. Mighty NASA has been embarrassed by costly software bugs.

In December 1998, NASA launched a mission to gain a better understanding of how things work on other planets. This research mission is to be the search for an alternative planet for humans. It was called the Mars Climate Orbiter.

It was not just ordinary research as Testbytes puts it, the research would “bring the United States to the forefront in astronomical research.”.

However, somehow, somewhere, something went wrong with the mission. We may call it one of the most expensive software errors in history. This led to a heavy loss, approximating $326.7 million because the Orbit went missing.

Software Bugs and OLA’s Mobile App Costly Software Errors/Flaws

OLA is India’s largest taxi aggregator. It is based in Bangalore. This company witnessed some serious security flaws in its taxi system. What was the cause of this? You better say it right; software bugs!

OLA experienced a very expensive software failure when some bugs caused the transportation system to offer free rides.

Why is this a costly software bug?

We believe that the OLA software bug is very costly because it raises some serious concerns. The Economic Times summarises these concerns as “raising concerns about the robustness of technology at India’s largest cab aggregator.”

The bug operated in a very different way. Causing damages to both the company and genuine users. This is because it enabled genuine users to be responsible for the ride of others.

Certainly, there were issues of data breaches, unauthorised access and user wallets being used to pay for rides. In others, the bugs allow users to make use of other users’ wallets and pay for their rides.

Well, OLA were even a bit lucky about this, because the bug can only be taken advantage of by people with basic programming skills. The impact would be worse if the bug allowed everyone to enjoy the rides. Anyways, the damage still had far-reaching effects; affecting both users and OLA.

Software bugs also led to a lot of data breaches which is a very serious issue in today’s world.

Software Bugs’ Roles on The Wall Street Journal Website Goes Dark

Seems like software bugs are on a shopping spree around the world; helping companies to buy losses. Very heavy ones indeed.

The coincidence with this software bug is that it happened when the New York Stock Exchange fell flat. When users tried assessing it, it returned 504 errors.  You can imagine the thoughts of the people and the outrage on different platforms about this. Many even swore that this was a conspiracy.

Why is this a costly software bug?

Although the website goes dark for just an hour, that is a lot of time to make anyone have doubts, long enough to lose confidence too.

Explain the cause of this embarrassing moment, NBC News’ Pete Williams reported; The Wall Street Journal’s homepage is crashing under intense traffic. This is a situation that would have been clearly prevented with proper load and stress testing.

Now they have to initiate damage control mechanisms to explain that it has no connection with events. And that their new outlet was not under any attack. Unfortunately, it may be too late for some users who will not take the time to understand what just happened.

Many may even stop visiting the site thinking that their data had been compromised or open for such attacks.

The Microsoft Software Bugs That Gave Hackers Control

Sometime in the year 2016, the tech giant, Microsoft, released a software patch for their operating systems. it was an emergency one anyway and was intended for nearly all their OS. However, it came with some security flaws. The flaws allowed hackers to take advantage of certain vulnerabilities and take control of a user’s operating system.

Why is this a costly software bug?

Now, Microsoft is a household name all around the world. It is one of the main authorities of widely used software and productivity programs around the world.

This means that their products are also everywhere and many users have their data managed by the company. Even more, many users trust the company with their private data. So, such a hack would frighten everyone. People will wonder who may lay their hands on their private data and the damages to come.

Any such vulnerability to computer programs should pass as costly software bugs to avoid.

When Costly Bugs Led to Visa Data Leaks

VFS Global is a company that offers Visa service. The company contracts for several international governments. When they get hit by the powers of software bugs, it puts the personal data of visa applicants from over 45 countries. Now that is a lot of data right there.

The expensive software errors were discovered by two tech consultants who experimented using arbitrary application numbers to maliciously gain access to other people’s personal details.

Why is this a costly software bug?

This is a costly software bug because when we talk about personal details, we are not only talking about names. It includes people’s addresses, dates of birth, their passport numbers, etc. These are details that should remain very private and secure.

This raised serious concerns about the reliability of VFS Global in handling people’s data. Because such vulnerabilities can lead to severe harm. With user addresses in full sight, the threats can even become physical.

What are some Expensive Software Errors and Their Impacts?

The Morris Worm in 1988

You are getting wrong if you only believe that big losses happen as a result of software bugs. There are several cases of costly software errors that have happened as a result of human errors.

A typical example of this is the Morris Worm in 1998 which was perpetuated by a student. In the books of software errors leading to big losses. Morris Worm ranks as one of the highest in history.

Daniel Martin says it happened when a “Cornell University student created a worm as part of an experiment”. This experiment shortly goes out of hand and ends up “spreading like wildfire and crashing tens of thousands of computers due to a coding error.”

Estimates place the cost of damages to be around $10 million. However, the student received a fine of $10, 000.

The Mt. Gox Bitcoin Hack in 2011

Another top-ranked expensive software failure is the Bitcoin hack that happened to Mt. Gox in 2011. At the time, it was the biggest crypto exchange platform in the world. Many crypto freaks trusted the platform with their crypto finances but lost a huge sum to a software error.

It was actually a glitch in the exchange that operated in a very funny way. It automatically performed some transactions in Bitcoins, costing up to $1.5 million.

However, a bigger and darker event happened to the exchange in 2014. This time, it cost roughly half a billion dollars which is equivalent to over 850,000 bitcoins at the time.  

It is also one of the top-ranked software defect impacts where a lot of Bitcoins were permanently lost. In fact, reports have it that only about 200,000 bitcoins have been recovered.

Mt. Gox could not survive such an expensive defect’s impact this time and had to declare bankruptcy.

The Soviet Gas Pipeline Explosion in 1982

This one actually has been surrounded by a lot of conspiracy theories. Many believe that it was even carried out by the CIA itself.

As you may imagine, it happened during the Cold War. That was far back in 1982. At the time, there were high tensions between the USSR and the USA.

The Soviet Union was very progressive with software innovations and automation systems. to this end, they ran a gas pipeline that was fully automated.

Everything was going well until the Soviet Union designed plans to steal from Canada. They targeted a company that specialised in advanced automation software programming.

Somehow, the CIA got intel on the plans and also started making their counteractive plans. Since the USA has a good relationship with Canada, they collaborated and infected the software with some software bugs or errors.

Unfortunately, and unknown to the Soviet Union, they went ahead to steal the software and implemented it on their automated pipeline system. Meanwhile, the pipeline cost the Soviet Union at least $20 million dollars.

Shortly after, there was a big explosion that caused very severe damage to the whole investment. In essence, an investment which was intended to rake in at least $8 billion in profits was brought to a standstill by a software error.

Avoiding Expensive Software Failures

As we imply in previous sections of this blog post. Software bugs and software errors can lead to serious damages. In some cases, the damages lead to loss of lives.

You may have been wondering or asking yourself if it’s possible to prevent all the disasters from happening.

Well, a lot has changed as many solutions have been introduced in the world of software. Software bugs and errors are seen as normal occurrences in software products or codes.

However, do not get us wrong, they are still very dangerous. They may even be more dangerous than before.

We are just trying to say that there are some software monitoring systems or solutions. There is also the idea of software testing. These are viable solutions for identifying and preventing the occurrences and damages of software bugs or software errors.

One of our watchwords is that software testing and software testing auditing must be an integral part of the software development process. You can also consider investing in software monitoring solutions.

These are software bugs, preventive tools and techniques that will protect your software. They offer real-time insights and notify you with comprehensive reports to enable quick and proactive actions.

If you need to design and implement the best preventive solutions for software bugs, we can help you. Reach out to us now.

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