The Week in Glitches: Cables Cut, Leap Day Bugs

Millions aggravated by technical glitches this week

3 min read

The Week in Glitches: Cables Cut, Leap Day Bugs

"Oops" seems to be the operative IT word for the past week or so.

For example, according to the Christian Science Monitor, a ship in a restricted area off the port of Mombasa, Kenya, dropped its anchor last weekend severing the Indian Ocean East Africa Marine Systems (TEAMS) cable. The TEAMS cable provides Internet and phone service to the African countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Juba, the capital of South Sudan. As a result, Internet service will be significantly slowed for the next three weeks or so as the cable is repaired.

That assumes nothing else goes wrong. A related story in the Wall Street Journal says this is the 4th undersea cable that has been severed in the region since the 17th of February. It is reminiscent of the spate of problems with undersea cables being cut in 2008.

Then on Wednesday of this week, a technician accidentally cut a General Communications fiber optic cable in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, which disrupted telephone, cable and Internet service across wide portions of the state, the Alaska Dispatch reported. The cable was repaired later in the day.

Last night, Fox News reported that US Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) closed off access to the Internet as well as Blackberry service around 10:00 am EST yesterday to repair some an unspecified problem. At least 20,000 workers at the Pentagon and untold numbers working at other military/defense commands that rely on the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) were said to be affected. Fox News was told that it wasn't a cyber attack, although as of this morning, DISA still has not explained what happened or when everything returned to normal.

Also yesterday, a story at the Arizona Republic reported that about 200,000 Cox Communications residential phone customers in Arizona, Southern California and the Las Vegas area finally got their voice-mail service back after being out for almost ten days. An unspecified hardware error apparently occurred at a vendor that Cox uses to provide its voice-mail service. The problem caused Cox to delete all customer-saved voice messages and greetings. During the outage, the Republic story says, "unanswered calls prompted either dead air, a busy signal or an 'experiencing technical difficulties' message from Cox." Cox did at least offer those affected a call-forwarding service for free.

Operations at the UK Post Office seem to now be fully restored as well. According to various news reports, the Post Office suffered its fourth major outage in the past nine months yesterday. From early yesterday morning until late afternoon, UK postal retail staff could not perform any transaction that required the use of a computer. However, the BBC reported that Post Office ATMs, Post & Go services and Paystation bill payment and e-top up transactions were unaffected by the glitch.

This week also saw leap-day related IT issues. A leap-day glitch brought down Microsoft's Azure cloud service affecting commercial and government organizations in the US and Europe. A leap-day glitch was blamed for EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer at point of sale) systems issues at Pak 'N' Save, New World and Four Square supermarket stores in New Zealand. The National Australia Bank-owned Health Industry Claims and Payments Service (HICAPS) also warned its 150,000 customers that a leap-day issue would likely prevent them from using their private health care cards for paying for their medical visits.

There was also an "transaction processing issue" on 29th of February at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) that crashed the bank's ATMs and EFTPOS services for nine hours. CBA vehemently denied that the problem was related to a leap-day bug, instead blaming the issue on the bank's crappy 40-year old IT systems which it is in the process of replacing. CBA also told SkyNews that its customers could expect more such glitches until the replacement systems are fully operational at the end of the year.

The AP is reporting this morning that a computer glitch today at Brazil's largest airline, TAM S.A., is affecting check-in at 11 airports across the country. The problem is expected to be fixed by later today.

Finally, we'll see tomorrow whether any computer glitches will be affecting United Airlines, the world's largest airline, as it migrates to a new reservation system.

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