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Most bugs arise from mistakes and errors made in either a program’s source code or its design, or in components and operating systems used by such programs. A few are caused by compilers producing incorrect code. A program that contains a large number of bugs, and/or bugs that seriously interfere with its functionality, is said to be buggy (defective). Bugs can trigger errors that may have ripple effects. Bugs may have subtle effects or cause the program to crash or freeze the computer. Other bugs qualify as security bugs and might, for example, enable a malicious user to bypass access controls in order to obtain unauthorized privileges.
Some software bugs have been linked to disasters. Bugs in code that controlled the Therac-25 radiation therapy machine were directly responsible for patient deaths in the 1980s. In 1996, the European Space Agency’s US$1 billion prototype Ariane 5 rocket had to be destroyed less than a minute after launch due to a bug in the on-board guidance computer program. In June 1994, a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter crashed into the Mull of Kintyre, killing 29. This was initially dismissed as pilot error, but an investigation by Computer Weekly convinced a House of Lords inquiry that it may have been caused by a software bug in the aircraft’s engine-control computer.
In 2002, a study commissioned by the US Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded that “software bugs, or errors, are so prevalent and so detrimental that they cost the US economy an estimated $59 billion annually, or about 0.6 percent of the gross domestic product”
The Open Technology Institute, run by the group, New America,released a report “Bugs in the System” in August 2016 stating that U.S. policymakers should make reforms to help researchers identify and address software bugs. The report “highlights the need for reform in the field of software vulnerability discovery and disclosure.” One of the report’s authors said that Congress has not done enough to address cyber software vulnerability, even though Congress has passed a number of bills to combat the larger issue of cyber security.
Government researchers, companies, and cyber security experts are the people who typically discover software flaws. The report calls for reforming computer crime and copyright laws.
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act criminalize and create civil penalties for actions that security researchers routinely engage in while conducting legitimate security research, the report said.
While the use of the term “bug” to describe software errors is common, many have suggested that it should be abandoned. One argument is that the word “bug” is divorced from a sense that a human being caused the problem, and instead implies that the defect arose on its own, leading to a push to abandon the term “bug” in favor of terms such as “defect”, with limited success. Since the 1970s Gary Kildall somewhat humorously suggested to use the term “blunder”.
In software engineering, mistake metamorphism (from Greek meta = “change”, morph = “form”) refers to the evolution of a defect in the final stage of software deployment. Transformation of a “mistake” committed by an analyst in the early stages of the software development lifecycle, which leads to a “defect” in the final stage of the cycle has been called ‘mistake metamorphism’.
Different stages of a “mistake” in the entire cycle may be described as “mistakes”, “anomalies”, “faults”, “failures”, “errors”, “exceptions”, “crashes”, “bugs”, “defects”, “incidents”, or “side effects”