Y2K bug strikes from beyond the grave

Date change-over misery as IT industry forgets the lessons of ten years ago

Tags: Kaspersky LabSymantec CorporationY2K bug
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Y2K bug strikes from beyond the grave
By  Mark Sutton Published  January 7, 2010

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" - an often misquoted aphorism, but one that is painfully appropriate to certain people in IT this week with the news date change over from 2009 to 2010, in an echo of the great 'Millennium Bug' of 1999-2000, has wreaked havoc on systems worldwide.

The most notable issue is with an error that has knocked out 30 million German debit and credit cards, leaving around one third of all cards issued by German banks unable to use ATMs or make payments from New Year's day until now... The bug has even raised the possibility that all 30 million cards may have to be replaced.

German banks are not alone in their problems either, with Australia's Bank of Queensland having its own issues, and even IT companies Symantec and Kaspersky, and open source project SpamAssasin facing date-related problems (shame on them!).

The Y2K 'bug' was one of the issues that was coming to prominence about the time I started writing about technology, mainly from the perspective of the insurance industry, a couple of years before the turn of the Millennium. Insurers, not the most IT-savvy bunch at the time, were getting increasingly nervous about the possible impact of date change failures - which to cast your minds back included predictions of every sort of problem up to and including the end of civilization as we know it. But the year 2000 arrived, and, on the whole, there were no major problems.

Did the IT community get thanked for saving the day? Well, not really, as in recent years, the overall perception has been that the Millennium bug wasn't much more than scaremongering by the IT industry to line its own pockets.

There's no doubt that a lot of consultants and programmers made a good bit of money off the back of Y2K bug fix work, but there was also a hell of a lot of work put in before and during the Millennium switchover, all of which seems to have been forgotten by the industry and others, and replaced with an idea that Y2K was some sort of hoax.

While the industry could be forgiven for being a bit distracted after a tough 2009, I doubt that's of any comfort for those millions of German bank customers who still can't use their bank cards...

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