Software rot, not cyber-terrorism, is the threat

The computer systems serving United Airlines, the New York Stock Exchange and the Wall Street Journal web page all crashed on the same day.

The cause almost certainly was not cyber-terrorism.  It was software rot.

Software programs of most big institutions are built on modifications of older obsolete programs.  There are so many layers of software that nobody fully understands them.

A writer named Zeynep Tufekci explained—

In the nineties, I paid for parts of my college education by making such old software work on newer machines.  Sometimes, I was handed a database, and some executable (compiled) code that nobody had the source code for.  The mystery code did some things to the database.  Now more things needed to be done.

windows-rotThe sane solution would have been to port the whole system to newer machines, fully, with new source code.  But the company neither had the money nor the time to fix it like that, once and for all.

So I wrote more code that intervened between the old programs and the old database, and added some options that the management wanted.  It was a lousy fix. 

It wouldn’t work for the next thing that needed to be done, either, but they would probably hire one more person to write another layer of connecting code. But it was cheap (for them). And it worked (for the moment).

via Medium.

Other aspects of the problem are that most software programs are written in a hurry to meet tight deadlines.  Remember the engineers’ proverb?

Price.  Time.  Quality.

Pick any two.

All this is part of a larger societal problem—the refusal of managers of big institutions to spend money on maintenance.

Our dominant operating systems, our way of working, and our common approach to developing, auditing and debugging software, and spending (or not) money on its maintenance, has not yet reached the requirements of the 21st century.  [snip]

From our infrastructure to our privacy, our software suffers from “software sucks” syndrome which doesn’t sound as important as a Big Mean Attack of Cyberterrorists. But it is probably worse in the danger it poses.

Via Why the Great Glitch of July 8 Should Scare You by Zeynep Tufekci for Medium.

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