The threat of computers purposefully starting World War III is still the stuff of science fiction, but accidental software glitches have brought us worryingly close in the past. Although there are numerous alleged events of this ilk, the secrecy around military systems makes it hard to sort the urban myths from the real incidents.Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), a late Cold War approach to engaging the USSR, almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and this was one of those inadvertent hazards that Nuclear Freeze proponents warned people about in the mid-80's.
However, one example that is well recorded happened back in 1983, and was the direct result of a software bug in the Soviet early warning system. The Russians' system told them that the US had launched five ballistic missiles. However, the duty officer for the system, one Lt Col Stanislav Petrov, claims he had a "...funny feeling in my gut", and reasoned if the US was really attacking they would launch more than five missiles.
The trigger for the near apocalyptic disaster was traced to a fault in software that was supposed to filter out false missile detections caused by satellites picking up sunlight reflections off cloud-tops.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
#1 on a list of 10 worst IT disasters of all time: