10 worst tech screwups of 2012 (so far)

Amid a sea of flops, flubs, and faceplants, Cringely picks the 10 biggest tech blunders we've seen in the first half of the year

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6. SOPA, PIPA, and CISPA -- oh my

The three-headed beast of ill-considered Congressional legislation went on a rampage through the Internet village this spring. While the Net's inhabitants succcessfully cut off two heads via a well-supported Internet "blackout," CISPA remains -- in large part due to quiet support by heavyweights like Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act was passed by a House majority in April and awaits judgement in the Senate, where it's competing with two similar bills. In response, a group of opponents has banded together and formed the Internet Defense League. If we can just can convince Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk to sign on, we might win this thing yet.

7. Cold war code wars

Turns out we're cyber war badasses after all. Under a program initiated under President Bush and continued under President Obama, the United States did in fact inject the Stuxnet worm -- codeveloped by the NSA and the Israeli secret service -- into an Iranian uranium processing plant, screwing up the centrifuges and spoiling the batch. Unfortunately Stuxnet didn't stay there, spreading to other computer systems. Now a Stuxnet cousin known as Flame is burning its way across networks in the Middle East, with no telling where or when it'll stop.

8. WinPho blows smoke

Microsoft is so proud of the speed of its Windows Phone 7.5 operating system that it set up a Smoked by Windows Phone contest last May for visitors to its Microsoft Stores. If any other smartphone user could defeat a WinPho7 at a series of basic tasks, that person would walk off with a $1,000 HP laptop. A few days into the contest, Android user Sahas Katta defeated a Windows Phone at a basic task, at which point store employees declared the contest null and void. (Roughly a day later, Microsoft higher-ups realized what schmucks they looked like and reversed themselves, giving Katta the laptop after all.) It seems the marketing geniuses who came up with Smoked by Windows Phone were busy smoking something else.

9. For Apple, "j***break" is a four-letter word

Who says Apple doesn't have a sense of humor? On the same day that hearings were being held on whether to amend the DMCA to continue to allow jailbreaking of iPhones, someone at the Apple Store censored the word "jailbreak" -- including on the epic Thin Lizzy recording of the same name. That, or maybe they really preferred "The Boys Are Back in Town." (It is a better song, after all.)

10. Leak house

In January, a hacker group calling itself Lords of Dharmaraja posted source code for Norton AntiVirus on the Web. In February, Anonymous tapped a phone confab between the FBI and Scotland Yard about -- yes -- how to catch Anonymous, then posted the audio on YouTube. That same month, security consultants Stratfor Global had 5 million of its emails posted online, courtesy of those same anons. In March, a zero-day remote desktop exploit began spreading across the Web. Its source: a program created by Microsoft to identify and contain zero-day exploits. More recently, LinkedIn had more than 6 million hashed user passwords stolen and posted online by a Russian hacker, who invited all his crypto-hacker friends to decode them. Will the last site to get hacked because it was too lazy to shore up its security practices please turn off the Interwebs? Thank you.

What do you think were the biggest faceplants of 2012? Post yours below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com. And Happy July 4th.

This article, "10 worst tech screwups of 2012 (so far)," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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