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A helpful reminder

·2 mins
“1411 hours. The station is back in crisis. Once again, we cannot use the printer.”

Dalian bus
Photo credit: Unsplash

Despite the wealth poured into the infrastructure of cities, the teams of researchers and scientists developing resilient systems and intelligent algorithms to drive efficient transport networks, and well-documented tales of software vulnerabilities and hacker exploits, sometimes it takes just an Adobe Flash software update to cripple a train network for 20 hours.

As reported by Apple Daily, the city of Dalian in northern China runs its railways using Flash, which Adobe announced three years ago would be killed off. When the plug was finally pulled on the software last week, staff battled to restore service to the city’s six million residents, with authorities fixing the issue ‘by installing a pirated version of Flash at 4:30 a.m. the following day’.

I’ve looked extensively at how universities can shape a new and better wave of so-called smart cities. But it’s helpful to be reminded that the more complex and interconnected the system, the easier it is for one small, overlooked part to bring it all crashing down.

Hat tip to Exponential View for the story, and Technode for the printer quote at the top. As a few articles have pointed out, it’s a little strange for a city to manage its operations using a software programme best known for creating timewasting online games in the mid-2000s. But remember too that much of the global banking infrastructure is underpinned by COBOL – a programming language that’s more than 60 years old.