The world falls silent. All you can hear is the echo of your heart pounding, palpitating as beads of cold sweat trickle down the side of your face. You feel nothing, except for the lump in your throat and nausea quickly creeping in as you realize that something has gone wrong. Very wrong. We’ve all been there — that dreadful moment when a technology mishap became our worst nightmare.
From human error and system failures to bloodsucking hackers and thieves, here are some of the scariest experiences that have sent businesspeople running, crying, and even transmogrifying into expletive-throwing beasts as technology took a turn for the digitally macabre.
The demon in the databases
GlowingStart develops some of the top mobile apps for planning and starting a business. We have 250,000 downloads across iOS, Android and Kindle.
Recently, I had a huge disaster. I was cleaning up some old tables in a database and noticed a table with a weird table name. I thought that it was something experimental from a long time ago and deleted it.
Then, literally five minutes later, I started getting emails from my app users that their business plans were deleted. And there are something like 26,000 business plans on my apps.
I was like, “Oh my god, I just deleted the business plans.”
Mind you, these are business planning apps — this is why people use them. So the No. 1 function of the app got totally wiped out.
After a day with my hosting provider, for a fee, they restored my database from the day before. So I am 99 percent OK. But OMG, that was a scare! — Alex Genadinik, founder of GlowingStart
The mystery in the server
One business owner we spoke to a few years ago swore that his company didn’t have any IT problems to speak of. Respecting their verdict, we simply asked if they had any IT questions as a courtesy for their time. The business owner himself stated that he had one question. His server was almost to capacity, though he was fairly certain he didn’t have that much data.
He allowed us to do a quick diagnostic. Sure enough, someone had hacked into his system and was using it to spam pornography. We helped move him to a more stable platform. — Yehuda Cagen, director of client services at Xvand Technology Corp.
The witchcraft in the operating system
It happened out of the clear blue sky. Once my husband made the mistake of clicking on a fake Microsoft “security alert,” Russian thieves took over our entire operating system. Despite all sorts of “foolproof” anti-whatevers, my computer was being held hostage.
Luckily, we have a friend who has his own computer security company and he drove down both times from near Dallas to Austin. And luckily, we had backed up most of our information. But until he could get things straightened out, we could not use our computer, not even to access our files or anything. The first time, he replaced our entire operating system and updated the security.
Then it happened again. The second time was such a mess that we had to locate the virus first before we could even dump the old program. That was nerve-racking even for our friend. Apparently, the thieves get more sophisticated in their attacks with “root viruses” and other such nightmares. Our friend tells us that these thieves that take over your system and then want you to pay for them to “fix” it are catching up with the drug dealers in making illegal money.
Now I just say screw it and have cheap junk backup computers ready to go. It is cheaper to just fire up a new system than to pay the crooks or to get a technician. — Beverly Solomon, creative director, musee-solomon
The curse of the vanishing auto-save
I just got married and my wife and I were doing a lot of the design work ourselves for the stationary for the event.
I was using Photoshop to design place cards for our guests full of icons and text. Although not super complicated, the work was very precise. I got so absorbed and stressed about getting it done in time for the wedding that I forgot to save! The program shut down and let’s just say it took twice as long to get the job done.
As you can imagine, having this kind of thing happen before a wedding is extremely nerve-racking. I plan on upgrading from my old version of Photoshop because I believe the new ones have better auto-save features. — Len Kendall, co-founder, CentUp
The goblins in the host
We’re a small Internet marketing company that focuses on growing small businesses to make a name for themselves. We do this through almost every discipline of the business: building websites, managing paid advertising, creating social accounts and dealing with the changes put out by Google on a daily basis.
My story involves an instance where I needed to transfer a client’s website from one hosting server to another. I had a program that was designed to back up the website and make it almost seamless to transfer from one host to another. Everything went great at first, but on the final step of the restore process, I hit a snag. The program failed to restore, but wouldn’t give me any reason. Unsure of why, I had to spend another hour creating a new backup file and attempting the restoration again. This was tedious because now I needed to completely delete all the databases that were going to be used for the install and it had been filled with corrupted data. It wasn’t until the third attempt that I discovered the host I was trying to restore the PHP files on wasn’t actually capable of PHP restores due to the limitations of the hardware. This forced me to take even longer to find a work around program that would work with this particular type of hosting. Only making my life more difficult, it was the complete opposite of the original program in the first place.
What should have been an easy half-hour task ended up taking me two more days to get squared away. Midway through the second deletion of the databases, the host provider started to have an issue with their database creation software, adding to the already painful situation.
Learning a hard lesson here, I’ve come to follow the principle of keeping a secondary and tertiary method for doing website migrations, so that in the case of a server rejecting one particular method, I won’t have to scramble to discover an alternative method and instead be ready. Technology won’t catch me off guard again. — Jason Whitt, data analyst at Geek Powered Studios
The ghouls of system failures
As a consultant, I work with IT departments across a large number of companies and industries. At a recent client, we were unable to get user IDs set up for new members of the project team because the workflow system that supported the approval process was down for two weeks. The systems to set up the IDs were still operational, but rather than manually get approvals and set up the IDs, everything halted for two weeks because the “system was down.”
This episode showed the disconnect that often exists within an IT organization. When we let the chief information officer know about the issue, he said that we shouldn’t let the bureaucracy impact the project. When we turned around to his direct reports and let them know this, they promptly told us to talk to the people that had originally informed us of the issues to get it resolved. In speaking with them, they then identified other groups that we should talk to. In the end, nothing happened because no one in the company took ownership.
The net result was that the initial code release was two weeks late since the developers could not log into the system to write code. The developers were expected to “make up” the time to try and fit the release within the initial dates. — John Picciotto, principal at Accenture
The tale of the missing iPhone
I was vacationing alone on a long island off Thailand called Ko Samet. I was hiking around alone on the rocky beach and in/out of the jungles when I came upon a group and I asked them to take my pic using my iPhone. I gave them my phone and suddenly realized these people were a little thuggy; one of the guys was wearing a T-shirt that said in English: “I kill you.” They weren’t taking my pic as much as fondling my phone and enthusiastically saying “iPhone” mixed in with some Thai so I couldn’t understand them. We were at a national park with some huts nearby, so I didn’t feel immediately threatened.
They took my pic and I headed off, but one of the guys started following me through some thick jungle. We were alone and he was getting closer to me so I started jogging. I hopped on my little Vespa and sped off on the dirt trail. That day it was raining, and these Vespas are not suited for this terrain. I could hear motorbikes approaching behind me and I came to a steep hill with loose rocks and dirt. I decided I would have to gun it or I would be alone with these dudes again that seemed to want my iPhone (this was long before the affordable 5c hit the market). I hit the hill full-blast and hit a rock, which sent me flying off my bike and I severely dislocated my shoulder without being able to snap it back in place.
It turned out, the cycle sounds behind me were a nice couple that helped me up. In the confusion of it all, I ended up losing my phone anyway somewhere on the dirt road. I paid a taxi $60 to take me back and look around for it after seeing the doctor, but with no luck. Later on, I used a computer to track the iPhone and saw it moving around mainland Thailand within hours of the accident. Tourist policemen were not willing to take me to get the phone even though it was clear where it was. Later, I realized they wanted me to pay them money to go look for it. — Cameron Postelwait, director of marketing, Sewell Direct