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[CTRL] Y2K Fear May Trigger Early Panic




From: Lyn McCloskey <[email protected]>
Subject: [CTRL] Y2K Fear May Trigger Early Panic
Date: Wed, 16 Dec 1998 17:50:58 -0500
To: [email protected]

 -Caveat Lector-

Technology Headlines Monday December 14 10:18 AM ET

Fear Of Year 2000 Computer Bug May Trigger Early Panic

By Neil Winton, Science and Technology Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - Even if the ``millennium bomb'' does not explode in the
world's computers just over a year from now, 1999 is likely to see rising
panic as people take precautions against computer failure triggered by the
year 2000.

Experts say the most vulnerable countries include Japan, France, Russia and
Brazil and the most vulnerable sectors are utilities, especially power
generation.

``Next year we will see periods of calm broken by occasional news stories
predicting computer systems failures,'' said Ross Anderson of Cambridge
University's Computer Security Research Center. ``My own feeling is that
around August or September panic will start, with hoarding of food and bank
notes. Then the whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.''

The time bomb has trivial origins. In the early days of computing, programs
saved what was then precious space by abbreviating years to the last two
digits.

They knew this could cause problems at the turn of the century because
computers would read ``00'' as ``1900'' rather than ``2000'' and crash or
spew out flawed data. But they thought these programs would be history by
then as technology raced ahead.

They were wrong. Now the fear is that old data systems carrying the
millennium bomb or bug could trigger disasters around the world in
everything from defense, transport and telecommunications to energy and
financial services.

As 1999 progresses, early trigger dates are likely to provide sneak
previews of the chaos that may hit as clocks strike midnight on Dec. 31.
The first is Jan. 1, 1999. Programs used in some accounting systems operate
a rolling year ahead as they set renewal dates for insurance premiums or
bank loans and may crash when they reach out beyond Jan. 1, 2000.

Margaret Joachim, Year 2000 coordinator at data processing services company
Electronic Data Systems Corp. (NYSE:EDS - news), says there are other dates
next year that might trigger computer failure.

``April 9, 1999, the 99th day of the year, and Sept. 9, 1999, which might
be recorded as 9-9-99. This is because programmers often used nines as a
cutoff for a program. A row of nines meant 'don't do this anymore,'''
Joachim said.

The world is in differing states of readiness. Information technology
consultancy Gartner Group says the United States is best prepared, followed
by Canada, Australia, South Africa, Israel and Britain. At the bottom of
the list is Brazil, the world's eighth largest economy and a big producer
of industrial components, commodities and grains.

Brazil is unlikely to be able to confine problems within its borders,
according to a recent report by Edward Yardeni, chief economist for
Deutsche Morgan Grenfell in New York.

Japan's lack of action is also causing concern. The Japanese government
said last month that important industries like finance, transport, energy,
telecommunications and medicine were lagging in year 2000 preparation.

Hong Kong's government has said 80 percent of its critical computer systems
were ready for 2000 as of Sept. 30, 1998, but it is worried about small and
medium-sized businesses.

India does not expect much damage because of its small number of computers
-- only around 2.3 million in a nation of about 950 million. But India's
``brain trust'' of software makers have bagged orders worth $1.5 billion to
fix year 2000 problems around the world, said Dewang Mehta, executive
director of the National Association of Software and Service Companies.

In China, authorities have decreed that all government computer systems
must be fixed by March and tests completed by September 1999.

Cambridge University's Anderson said France was most at risk in Western
Europe, with computer failures most likely in the public sector and
especially public utilities. Any problems could quickly become a problem
for neighbors such as Britain, which receives electric power from France.

``There is still quite a question mark over whether France sees the scale
of the problem,'' said Chris Webster, head of year 2000 services at Cap
Gemini.

``There's a real chance that there may be some loss of service from
utilities. Who, when, where or why? Impossible to say. Will it be a
complete loss of power, voltage fluctuations? And there is a remarkable
lack of information from utilities as to what they are expecting to
happen.''

JP Morgan's Year 2000 expert Patrick Ward says Eastern Europe's and
Russia's utilities are a big concern, not least because Russia provides 40
percent of Germany's power.

If some systems crashes are triggered early by the arrival of Jan. 1, 1999,
it might be a blessing in disguise.

``This will involve accounting, planning and budgeting systems rather than
operational executing systems, which carry out day-to-day business. It will
give you some experience in spotting the errors and knowing how to deal
with them,'' Webster said.

But Anderson is taking no chances: ``Personally, I plan to have three
months' food, a working well, three tons of calor (heating) gas and 400
liters of diesel come the dreadful day.''

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