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It takes an army of trained, licensed, and accredited professionals to build a skyscraper in most cities around the world. But what about the software platforms and machine learning tools that have become crucial components of the world’s financial, military, medical, and communications ecosystems?
The critical software and technical systems we rely on daily are like invisible skyscrapers all around us — yet we often don’t know who designed them, how they were constructed, or whether they hide defects that could lead to massive inconvenience, financial chaos, or catastrophic failures.
Design flaws are introduced into software systems around the world every day, but the most serious errors can have widespread and costly effects. Even industries that require higher levels of regulation and certification can face catastrophic consequences of software design flaws. In October of 2018, for example, the U.S. Government Accountability Office warned that many sophisticated weapons systems are vulnerable to cyberattack after testers playing the role of adversaries hacked numerous weapons’ control systems. In that same month, the Food and Drug Administration issued an alert on two medical devices due to software vulnerabilities that could allow a hacker to hijack the device and change its function, potentially with lethal consequences for the device user.
Such consequences have been in the spotlight in recent months, as Boeing has faced sharp scrutiny over whether software design flaws were a factor in two back-to-back fatal crashes of 737 Max jets — and if these errors were preventable.
To help prevent other catastrophes, industries that provide critical products and services built with rapidly evolving hardware and software need to consider how they can ensure their businesses have a level of digital resiliency that justifies the trust society has placed in them. This will require — on the part of technical architects, software developers, and hardware designers — creating a commonly accepted set of requirements that software, hardware, and network professionals must satisfy in order to practice their craft. If they don’t, the government just might.
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Consider the construction industry, which has had formal standards in place for decades. A licensed architect must create the design for a building, and an army of professional engineers must approve the structure as well as the electrical and mechanical systems, to ensure the project meets or exceeds all building codes and safety standards.