The Top 21 Tech Screwups of 2006

Biggest Mistakes #1-#3

1. Assault With Batteries

When 62-year old Thomas Forqueran and a buddy were packing up from a Nevada fishing trip last July, he left his Dell Inspiron 1300 notebook in the cab of his 1966 Ford pickup. Soon Forqueran smelled smoke, then saw flames shooting out of the passenger window. Within moments the fire hit three boxes of ammunition stored in the glove box. Forqueran and his buddy ducked for cover as bullets whizzed by and the gas tank exploded .

Several flaming laptops made headlines in 2006, but it was Forqueran's story that pushed Dell to recall 4.1 million laptops containing Sony lithium ion batteries. Apple, IBM/Lenovo, Toshiba, and others soon followed, and laptop makers vowed to build a safer lithium ion battery battery by July 2007.

Big Mistake: Buying anything powered by a Sony lithium ion battery.

Bigger Mistake: Packing your laptop next to the ammo.

2. Spying the HP Way

Hiring private eyes to illegally obtain phone records, putting reporters under surveillance, digging through their trash, planting tracking bugs in their e-mail, and mulling plans to place informants inside newsrooms--the HP corporate spying scandal had a Watergate-style stink on it that an ocean of perfume couldn't wash away.

But deposed HP chair Patricia Dunn's Congressional testimony on the matter, which ranged from pleas of ignorance to haughty self-righteousness, had its own lingering aroma.

Dunn and other HP executives were ultimately forced to resign; the California State Attorney General's office has charged her and four others with fraud, identity theft, and conspiracy.

Big Mistake: Spying on reporters, board members, and their families.

Bigger Mistake: Not renting the DVD of "All the President's Men."

3. Hacking the Vote

Are electronic voting machines insecure? In May, security researchers discovered a previously unknown backdoor in Diebold's AccuVote-TS touch-screen voting machines that could allow an attacker to manipulate votes, cause malfunctions, or create a 'voting virus' that spreads from machine to machine--all in under a minute and with little fear of detection. Meanwhile, Princeton researchers also found Diebold's touch-screen machines could be opened with the same kind of key used for hotel mini-bars, offering easy access to the machine's memory card. Diebold promised to fix the vulnerability eventually, but also said they weren't too worried. Why? Because such hacks would require "evil and nefarious election officials"--who don't exist.

We feel much better now.

Big Mistake: Allowing insecure voting machines anywhere near this country's electoral process.

Bigger Mistake: Electing Homer Simpson president--which might happen if we keep using these machines.

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