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History's 10 most cringeworthy tech blunders

Mortifying moments from tech history

Sony hacks its customers' PCs

Cynics will tell you that the recording industry is paranoid and slow to enter the digital age. The industry insists it is merely trying to ensure its artists are fairly compensated.

But Sony BMG came down squarely on the side of paranoia in 2005 when, in the name of copy protection, it placed invasive rootkit software on an estimated 15 million music CDs by more than 100 artists. When a CD owner put one of these CDs in a PC drive, the software was automatically installed on the computer without the user's knowledge. Perhaps this system provided copy protection, but it also opened the user's computer to various types of spyware, malware and other nuisances.

A number of users and states sued Sony, which paid out big money to settle the matter. Apparently Sony wasn't too embarrassed, though - it recently pulled the same stunt again, this time placing rootkits on USB drives it was selling.

Tech reporter reveals too much

Many of us have had nightmares about being out in public without our clothes on. So you can only feel for somebody when that really happens, as it did in a virtual sort of way to TechTV reporter Cat Schwartz in 2003.

The gist of the story is that Schwartz had a photographer take provocative pictures of her. The pictures were taken while she was topless, but she cropped the images to be more modest and posted them online.

The problem was that she didn't realise how Photoshop, or possibly the camera itself, included the original image as a viewable preview of the cropped image. Not surprisingly, this mistake spread around the web rapidly, giving Cat Schwartz an additional 15 minutes of fame, or at least of mortification.

NSA offspring cripples the internet

Let's take a trip down memory lane, back to 1988. This was a time when widespread security threats were starting to become known, but we hadn't yet reached our current supervigilant state. That's also when a Cornell student, Robert Morris, Jr., released what many believe was the first major worm to be spread via the internet. He claimed it was a relatively innocent exercise.

The so-called Morris worm brought down a big chunk of the internet. Of course, in those days the internet was a relatively small network, largely limited to academics and the military establishment, so the worm didn't do nearly as much damage as it would today. Still, it caused, by some estimates, $15m in damage. Morris apologised for releasing the worm, was convicted and received probation.

Now the truly embarrassing part: Morris' father, Robert Sr., was a well-known, highly regarded security expert who worked for the National Security Agency. However, while Dad was undoubtedly mortified at the time, he surely must be proud of his progeny, who is now a professor at MIT.

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