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The Top 10 Tech Scares of the Decade

The past 10 years saw some terrifying technology

The dawn of the new millennium prompted fears about the future, but so far reality has not quite matched the predictions of catastrophe.

The first ten years passed uneventfully - well, aside from Y2K and a bunch of intelligent computer viruses. Here's a look back at the past decade, and ten of the most terrifying tech scares.

1. Y2K

Year: 2000
Predicted outcome: End of the world and technology as we know it
Actual outcome: Accidental alarms, slot machine failures, incorrect dates on websites

If you were around for the turn of the millennium, you undoubtedly heard something about Y2K and its potential outcomes. Then you probably felt like it didn't live up to the hype when the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000, and nuclear missiles didn't start automatically launching themselves.

The 'millennium bug' actually could have happened at the turn of any old century - not just the millennium. The concern was valid: Many computing systems used two digits to store the year, and so the rollover from 99 to 00 could cause various logic errors (such as recognising the New Year as 1900) that would cause the system to fail.

Luckily, technicians were aware of the issue (it was first mentioned in print as early as 1984), and made the appropriate corrections. While the fear-mongering media no doubt overhyped Y2K, it was a real problem that would have caused some large-scale issues had your trusty IT guys not been on the ball.

2. Conficker Worm

Years: 2008 - 2009
Predicted outcome: Not applicable
Actual outcome: An estimated 10 million home/business/government computers under its control

The Conficker worm (also known as Downup, Downadup and Kido), first detected in 2008, was a virus that targeted Windows operating systems. The worm used advanced malware techniques to take over machines and turn them into zombie/host computers that the worm's authors could control remotely. The Conficker infection was believed to be one of the largest computer infections since 2003, and analysts have suggested that as many as 10 million machines were affected.

Conficker spread in three ways: It attacked vulnerability in the Microsoft Server service, it guessed administrator passwords, and it infected removable devices with an autorun file that executed as soon as someone plugged the device (such as a USB flash drive) into another machine. The virus was particularly notable for its ability to spread rapidly throughout business networks; home computers were less likely to be infected.

The last known variant of Conficker was effectively quashed in mid-April 2009, but the authors of the worm remain unknown. The threat was so serious that Microsoft and ICANN offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Conficker's authors. They are still at large.


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