Computer bugs cause day of chaos for NYSE and United Airlines

9 Jul 2015

It’s been a week to forget for the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and United Airlines as two separate computer bugs wreaked havoc on their systems, shutting them down for hours at a time and casting doubts on how much we trust computers to do everything.

Stock markets are frantic enough places on a normal day, but when one of the biggest exchanges in the world suffers a major computer glitch that shuts down its digital operations for a period of four hours, it gets a whole lot worse.

According to The New York Times, the ordeal began almost immediately after the first bell rang at 9.30am EST, which got trading under way, with the glitch appearing to have not put through several trades, but this was quickly fixed by those who spotted it.

But, as is usually the case, this small glitch was in fact the precursor to a much larger fault that occurred later that morning, which was considered so severe one employee of the NYSE admitted that some of them felt they had “lost control of the system” as they faced blank screens on the trading floor.

To fix the fault, the NYSE had to shut down for four hours while traders had to go through the incredibly laborious process of cancelling 700,000 trades manually before trade could resume just after 3pm EST, just one hour before trading was to end.

Following its systems being put back online, the NYSE issued a statement blaming it on a “configuration issue” and didn’t suggest any act of sabotage.

NYSE stock exchange floor

NYSE stock exchange floor. Image via Scott Beale/Flickr

Bugs on the ground and in the air

Meanwhile, 400,000 passengers on United Airlines were equally having a bad day as 4,900 flights on the carrier worldwide were affected by a malfunction in its reservation software that caused a two-hour delay for its passengers.

According to The Washington Post, all of the airline’s flights had to be grounded due to a supposed error on one reservation made at 8am on Wednesday morning.

Aside from just making reservations, its software is also used for much of its safety protocols in terms of aircraft movement, maintenance schedules and scheduling for air crew and, when it goes down, it makes one hell of a mess for the company.

Much of the fault for these types of errors lies with the merger between United Airlines and Continental Airlines over five years ago, which, those close to the industry say, saw two different systems merge into one cumbersome and messy reservation platform.

This news comes not long after the Polish airline LOT experienced major issues with its own internal systems, not due to a computer error, but an intentional cyberattack that left 1,400 passengers grounded hours while it attempted to plug the breach.

Ladybird infestation image via Brian W Tobin/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic