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Twenty-year-old millennium bug struck again on January 1

20 years ago, one of the biggest computer crimes ever took place: the notorious millennium bug. Due to the hard work of thousands of programmers worldwide, the predicted catastrophe did not materialize, but not completely: even in 2020 we sometimes suffer from it.

Whoever thought that the millennium bug had meanwhile been eradicated is unfortunately wrong. On January 1 of this year, there were several incidents in which the vulnerability resurfaced, it now appears. For example, this week many parking meters in New York no longer worked with credit cards due to a software error. The transport department of the municipality must therefore manually repair 14,000 parking meters in the city. A large part of it has since been restored. The bug was called “Y2K2X” by the city. The metro network in Hamburg also seemed to be affected by the twenty-year-old bug.

Older readers probably remember the horror stories around the turn of the millennium. Computers would have been programmed until the year ’99, but programmed years would fall back to ’00 on January 1 of the new century and systems would run out of it. There was fear that stores would no longer be supplied, planes would fall from the sky and the economy would stop.

Fortunately, the greatest misery did not occur, particularly because thousands of programmers worldwide meticulously went through code to replace dates and resolve errors. That is exactly where the problem arose that now, twenty years later, is again affecting systems. Most experts suspect that in 1999 many programmers had the dates counted until ’20, instead of until 2099 or even longer. That probably happened on the assumption that the software that they wrote at the time would have been phased out by 2020, but old devices such as parking meters proved more unmanageable than expected. The millennium bug continues to haunt programmers even today. Off to 2099!

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