Is the Year 2000 digital bug back to haunt the world? 1999 was the year of the computer nightmare – popularly known as Y2K – the Millennium Bug saga. At that time; the two-digit Software Programming date bug-hunt was busy sending feverish signals of survival of the fittest to the global digital landscape. That was 20 years ago.
Today, it seems that little did we know that; the job to engage and dismiss the fear of Y2K out of our digital life was not totally completed! However, IT professionals celebrated the temporary escape on the 1st of January 2000.
The current echo from the seemingly dead Y2K is: Folks, I’m back and alive – transformed into Y2020!
So, what is Y2020? First, Y2K is described as computer system relying on a two-digit date logs; whose storage space in Cobol programming language (and other software development tools) are defined in two-digit picture format. Let’s face it, truth is that Software has holes; and applies to almost all applications and operating systems. That is why hackers are busy exploiting the digital holes of our universe; like rats digging tunnels of holes in hide and seek layers.
So, what went wrong in yesterday 1999?
Frankly, the hacker is not to blame as he/she was almost nowhere to be found in the Y2K scenario. Those days, Password was king and security vulnerability was second; and minimal in the thought-procedure of things.
Today, we now know that the IT world was in a hurry to avoid conquering the Y2K challenge. This was in order to avoid major incidents that could lead to computing stand-still. That never happened. But it has become evident that some of the solutions were indeed quick fixes to get over and silence the bug. Consequently, those quick fixes may have resulted in postponing the Y2K problem to Y2020.
The following observations continue to register concerns about the re-emergence of the old computer digit-date problem. According to TechRepublic (ZDNet special report), available reports on updated incidents have now acknowledged the obvious.
Y2K is back clothed as Y2020 as the latest worrisome visitor to the digital Tech Ecosystem; demystifying the 1999 Y2K show-off!
“Identified incident scenarios include: “Parking meters across New York, for example; declined credit card payments after an outdated software took the payment option offline in the New Year. The Department of Transportation is still going through the city to manually update the 14,000 parking meters; one by one. Also, it dubbed the problem a “Y2K2X software glitch”.
Furthermore, a wrestling game produced by 2K, unfortunately named WWE 2K20; reported crashes in the first seconds of the New Year. Gamers took to social media to point out that the crash could be fixed; simply by changing the date to the previous day.
Although this particular incident is not officially attributed to a Y2020 bug; experts are worried about the perceived problem in Hamburg’s subway system; which hindered traffic after a new year software update proved unsuccessful. So why are computer systems suddenly struggling with a 20-year-old bug?
In some cases, it may come down to a technique informally called the pivot year; and which many a developer used back in 2000 to tackle the Y2K bug. For example, let’s assume you are an institution founded in 1920. It is safe to accept that you are not sitting on any information dated before that time and so; in the double-digit date-recording system, “20” becomes your pivot year.
This means that data containing a two-digit year between “00-20” will be treated as post-2000; while years between 20-99 will be interpreted as referring to the previous century. Of course, not all companies and organizations were founded in 1920. But twenty years ago, 2020 seemed far away enough that many developers still chose 20 as their pivot year; assuming that by now most code and legacy systems would be replaced.
That is the waterloo!
Greg Sternberg was a developer and a consultant back in the Y2K days. He worked for finance companies. Sternberg highlighted the situation in his discussion with ZDNet; confirming that the “pivot year” technique was a quick fix that was frequently used to buy time.
Hear him: “I was told many times that ‘there’s no way the program will be running in 2020’. That’s true in a lot of cases. But equally, a lot of programs stay around longer than initially expected,” he said. “Making short-term decisions might have been the fastest way to do it at the time; and perhaps they were more expedient. But expedient usually means it will catch up with you later.”
That’s not to say that majority of organizations picked the pivot year strategy. Another method, which solved the problem in the long-term; was to rewrite all the components of the programming systems; as well as all the databases and data sources; so that they would use four-digit years.
This took time, and a lot of money; between $300bn and $500bn globally, to be precise. However, it is the reason that there wasn’t a complete tech shutdown when clocks struck midnight on 1 January 2000; to the point that the Y2K bug is often referred to as a scare-mongering myth.
“We didn’t wake up to the problem. Some programmers worked on this for years,” said Sternberg. “Frankly, they were unsung heroes.”
Going forward, there is need for total code investigation and review of adopted legacy software systems; including patches on some bundles to avoid the 2020 doomsday. This should be a critical concern to the National Software Ecosystem which is awash with perhaps unverified foreign software.
Furthermore, the contiguous trends and concerns in the porous; and unregulated Software sector urgently calls for the establishment of a National Software Commission. To those who remain deaf and chose to merely postpone the issue for a couple of decades, however; the software mirage problems have just begun! Y2020 is here?