The 5 Most Stupidly Disastrous Military Computer Glitches

#2. A Patriot Missile Failed Due to Nobody Rebooting It


During the first Gulf War in the 1990s, the Patriot missile was the undisputed badass of missile defense systems. It was credited with stopping about 99 percent of the Iraqi Scud missiles fired at U.S. bases, blowing them out of the air with precise calculations made by the highest quality computer systems around at the time.

Via Wikipedia
Hard to see out of the windshield, though.

Tragically, there's the case of the 1 percent. During the height of the Gulf War, while stationed in Saudi Arabia, a Patriot missile failed to properly intercept an incoming Scud missile. It flew into U.S. barracks, killing 28 soldiers and wounding close to 100 more. With the most advanced technology for its time, how could something like this even come close to happening?

The Screw-Up:

The problem is ludicrous in its simplicity: They left the computer on too long.

"Oooooh, ouch. I don't even start up Saints Row without a quick reboot."

Sure, these days it's normal to leave a PC running 24/7 -- you let it go into sleep mode and just wake it up when it's time to grind your Night Elf again. But even then, after a few days or weeks it starts to slow down as more shit accumulates in the task bar and more alerts turn up insisting that you download an update to your Adobe Reader. So even in 2013, sometimes you just have to turn your computer off and on once to let it get a fresh start.

But in 1991, the state-of-the-art target tracking systems in the Patriot couldn't run for more than a few hours without bogging down. Crews had to reboot them every few hours if they were in a spot where they were supposed to continually scan the skies. But in this case, everybody just forgot. The systems were left running for four straight days. And it wasn't the only time it happened.

Amazingly, this exhausted computer was not off by very much at all: Army technicians determined that the system's calculations had only missed by one-third of a second. However, the Patriot missiles rely on 100 percent precision, since they're pinpointing harbingers of death that are screaming through the atmosphere at hundreds of miles an hour. Being off by a teensy-weensy fraction of a second still meant looking 600 meters in the wrong direction.

"If you start chanting 'airball,' I swear I'll send the next one into your fucking car."

That's not just a football field; that's five and a half football fields. And all because nobody took the time to punch "Reset."

#1. Multiple Militaries Were Crippled by a Common Windows Virus


You only have to deal with a virus once to know you never want to do it again. Whether it poisoned your whole hard drive or simply hijacked your clipboard so that every time you hit "paste" you wound up inserting racial slurs into your Word document, one frustrating weekend of scans and reboots can convince you to never go without antivirus software again.

And there really is no excuse anyway -- effective and constantly updating antivirus programs are available for download at any time, at no cost whatsoever. So you can only imagine what kind of terrifying state-of-the-art virus blockers the military uses. They probably stop the virus, then automatically launch a drone strike on the virus writer's house.

"Shit, here comes that reporter. Tell her that sometimes houses just explode."

Or, not.

The Screw-Up:

Again, when we talk about the military getting crippled by a virus, we're not talking about the super-terrorist cyber attacks from the movies. We're talking about the same crap your mom catches when downloading some free screensavers and toolbars she got from clicking on a banner ad.

"Oh, honey, look! It says you won something!"

For instance, back in 2011, the unmanned drones at a Nevada Air Force base caught themselves a particularly annoying virus called a keylogger. This thing records every keystroke the infected computer makes and reports it back to its master. This is an easy way to get credit card numbers or bank account information or, in this case, classified information about the military's most important weapon systems (specifically, every keystroke the pilots made while operating the drones).

How is this possible? Well, the drones are controlled with off-the-shelf PCs running Microsoft Windows. In this case, they weren't connected to a network, but they still had to install software, and the external drive somebody brought in to upload it happened to be infected.

But that's nothing compared to what happened to the French navy, who were told weeks in advance of a common spamming virus called Conficker. It was so common that we're betting some of you reading this got this virus back when it was infecting Microsoft systems like wildfire. But while many of you saved yourselves because you saw the headlines (and alerts from Microsoft) warning you to update your antivirus, French officials ignored it. And they paid for it.

Isn't that right, Chad?

The virus shut everything down. Crews were ordered to take everything offline and all communication was done via phone and fax. Fighter jets were completely grounded, as flight plans couldn't be downloaded from the computers that couldn't be turned on.

They weren't alone -- less than a month earlier, the British Ministry of Defense also dealt with Conficker, causing their systems to be down for two weeks. So now we know how the aliens in Independence Day must have felt. Only instead of Jeff Goldblum uploading the code from a hijacked ship, they just caught it by randomly surfing shady websites on Earth's Internet.

Erik Germ runs, and thinks it would be awesome if you followed him on Twitter.

For more terrible mistakes, check out The 7 Most Disastrous Typos Of All Time and 5 Tiny Computer Glitches That Caused Huge Disasters.

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