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The biggest tech bloopers of 2018

TSB's IT collapse and a missile scare make up our list of shocks from the last 12 months

The pace of innovation, especially over the last year, has been breathtaking. But, at the same time, we've also seen an increase in what appears to be conventionally smart people spectacularly screwing things up.

Mistakes and bunglings are a fixture of the tech world that's remained alive and well this year - from botched digital transformation efforts to CEOs gone rogue. There are also worthy mentions for a bug-ridden operating system rollout and a leak of counter-terrorism tools.

From the side-splitting to the nail-bitingly terrifying, here's our roundup of the five biggest surprises, bloopers and mishaps of 2018 in tech.

Poor UI design leads to a full-blown missile scare

It seemed like a blunder to the rest of the world, but Hawaiian residents were sent into a state of panic in mid-January when they received a text message advising them to "seek immediate shelter" from an imminent ballistic missile strike.

"This is not a drill," the message added, but thankfully, it was. Reports suggested a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) employee mistakenly picked the wrong option from a poorly-designed user interface drop-down menu.

Despite meaning to click 'test missile alert', which would've sent a dummy alert to HEMA staff, they mistakenly picked the 'missile alert' option which sent the real alert to locals. The only safeguard in place to prevent this accidental launch was a single confirmation prompt, which was presumably glossed over.

In the aftermath, HEMA said it had modified the system to ask all genuine alerts to be confirmed by a second person before being issued as well as a cancellation button so citizens can be immediately informed in the event of a false alarm.

TSB's 1.9 million lessons in failure

TSB branch

What was intended as a straightforward (albeit major) transfer of customer records in April descended into chaos as high street bank TSB's IT system buckled over and left around 1.9 million customers without online and mobile banking.

The widespread outage, which came about after TSB tried to move 1.3 billion records from Lloyds' systems to its own, lasted nearly a week and attracted attention from both the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

Tech giant IBM, which TSB brought in to assess what went wrong, said the meltdown was due to a lack of rigorous testing of its systems before the IT migration began. The FCA, meanwhile, accused the bank of painting an overly-optimistic picture of the crisis as it was unfolding.

All this led to CEO Paul Pester announcing that he was stepping down as the bank still struggled to recover from a botched digital transformation project that could have been easily avoidable.

Slip-ups and breaches herald arrival of GDPR

Visual representation of GDPR and the UK's independence from the EU

The advent of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) saw the biggest shake-up to data protection regulations in 20 years, which included a massive hike in the maximum fine organisations could face for violations.

However, the tough new laws also came hand-in-hand with a host of data blunders by some of the world's biggest brands, including West Ham United. The football club sought attention from the ICO when it accidentally leaked hundreds of supporters' personal details after an employee mistakenly copied season ticket holders' details into a mass email.

The club was in good company post-GDPR compliance deadline, however, with a number of firms all finding themselves vulnerable to attack by the same group of hackers, known as Magecart, in a series of high-profile data breaches. These including BA, Ticketmaster and Newegg, among others.

Counter-terrorism tools leaked through Trello

Hundreds of confidential documents from the Cabinet Office and Home Office, as well as calendar appointments of civil servants, were discovered to be freely available online due to Trello misconfigurations.

These documents included highly-sensitive material like anti-terrorism measures and instructions for gaining entry passes for government buildings. But, many of these files and calendars were available for up to four years until their presence was discovered in a Sunday Times investigation. The details exposed also included names, phone numbers, and email addresses for senior civil servants.

The web-based project management tool Trello uses kanban-style boards to manage a team's workflow, with its 'boards' conventionally set to private by default, so only relevant team members can access them.

But up to 10 government boards were set to public, meaning they were accessible to anybody with the right link. The public status also meant they could be indexed by search engines, so looking up the right keywords could have easily made these boards accessible.

Buggy Windows 10 upgrades stuttered and stalled

Microsoft's flagship OS Windows 10 on a purple graphic

If the staggered rollout of the April 2018 update wasn't bad enough, Microsoft's flagship Windows 10 October upgrade was an absolute disaster; so bug-ridden the company had to withdraw it for more than a month.

The update was pulled less than a week after being rolled out after a flurry of reports came from users experiencing issues ranging from a devastating file-deletion error to driver compatibility problems.

Then, after being made available to just Windows Insiders, developers began to uncover a string of bugs related to the October update including another file-deletion error involving compressed files.

Microsoft then resumed the rollout of the update to the public on 14 November on a gradual basis, but the entire affair saw the industry titan suffer a significant hit to its reputation.

O2's near-24 hour data collapse

Photo of the O2 logo taken outside a branch in London

The last and most recent entry on our list is also perhaps among the most significant, as 32 million O2 customers as well as a host of businesses were deprived of data services for nearly 24 hours.

Social media was flooded with complaints after O2's 3G and 4G services were rendered offline. It affecting not just O2 customers but those also with operators using the O2 network, including GiffGaff and Tesco Mobile. Even organisations such as TfL, who use the network for signalling and communications, faced disruption.

The culprit was shortly pinpointed as Ericsson, a Swedish-based O2 supplier, who suffered a software failure due to two expired certificates.

O2 eventually offered a compensation package to customers, but the value per-person was deemed so insignificant that some customers instead suggested the network collectively donate this money to charity instead.

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