The computer programming flaw known as the Millennium bug which plagued PCs in 2000 is back, with Microsoft Exchange users reporting similar problems accessing emails 22 years later.
The issue taking down exchange servers worldwide began as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve.
System administrators at Microsoft have dubbed the glitch Y2K22 in reference to the Y2K bug, a computer programming issue which affected some computers at the turn of the millennium 22 years ago.
As the new millennium approached, computer programmers realised that their software might not interpret 00 as 2000, but as 1900 – a glitch that many feared would spell disaster for governments, corporations, banks and industries worldwide.
Many economists predicted a worldwide recession, and doomsday flyers warning of an apocalyptic fallout as a result of computer malfunctions were published en-masse in the late 1990s.
Fortunately, the computer apocalypse never came to pass, with only minimal disruptions recorded, but the issue has come back to plague some Microsoft Exchange servers 22 years later.
The issue taking down exchange servers worldwide began as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve
The issue stems from the way that Microsoft names updates for its malware-scanning engine, which uses the year, month and date before another four-digit number, known as a update number.
For example, in this case the update number would be 220101, followed by 0001.
This system is used to keep track of updates, with the most recent update being assigned a higher value.
But the field in which the update number is stored appears to have a limit of 31 bit, meaning the maximum value that can be inputted is two to the power of 31, or 2,147,483,648.
When the calendar ticked over to 2022, the naming system exceeded the maximum value and failed.
As a result, Microsoft’s anti-malware scanning software, which queues and checks messages before they are delivered to the recipient, is queueing emails and not sending them on.
Microsoft is yet to confirm the technical details of the failure, but has said that engineers are ‘working around the clock on a fix’ so that customers can avoid fiddling with their on-site servers to allow employees to access their emails again.
Microsoft is yet to confirm the technical details of the failure, but has said that engineers are ‘working around the clock on a fix’ which will ‘require several days to develop and deploy’
Don Cruickshank, Chairman of the Action 2000 Group, with his ‘Last chance guide ‘responsible for anticipating YK2 problems
The UK Government published flyers about the bug in the late 1990s
At the time, the public and companies feared the worse, with fears energy shortages resulting in failures in hospitals, schools and businesses, oil shortages, manufacturing issues and even planes falling from the skies
Microsoft has said the fix will ‘require several days to develop and deploy’ and that engineers are working on a different update which will require customer action, but will also offer ‘the quickest time to resolution.’
The company added: ‘The version checking performed against the signature file is causing the malware engine to crash, resulting in messages being stuck in transport queues.’
System administrators have taken to social media to share workarounds, which involves disabling anti-malware scanning, leaving systems open to attack.
‘Don’t wait for the Microsoft patch if you are not sure your Exchange Server storage has the capacity to hold all queued messages without filling up disks and crashing,” they wrote.
‘Apply the workaround now to release the messages sooner than later.’
However, Microsoft have warned the workarounds should only be used ‘if you have an existing malware scanner for email other than the engine in Exchange Server.’
System administrators have taken to social media to share workarounds, which involves disabling anti-malware scanning, leaving systems open to attack
The Microsoft Exchange team added: ‘We expect to have this update to you shortly along with the actions required by you. We are sorry for any inconvenience that this issue has caused.’
The issue will be familiar to those who remember the Millennium bug which became known as the Y2K scare by the general public in the years leading up to 2000.
Many programmes at the time represented four-digit years (1999) with only the final two digits, making the year 2000 indistinguishable from 1900.
Individual companies predicted the global damage potentially caused by the bug would require between $400m and $600b to fix, leading to panic buying among the public.
People stocked up on food and water, withdrew large sums of money and purchased backup generators in anticipation of a computer generated apocalypse when the clock struck midnight in 2000.
But, contrary to popular opinion at the time, few major errors occurred, mostly due to the pre-emptive action of computer programmers and tech experts. By 2000, companies in most countries had checked, fixed and upgraded their systems to address the issue.
It was feared the Y2K bug could cause computer shutdowns at the turn of the millennium
People across the world stocked up on food and water, withdrew large sums of money and purchased backup generators in anticipation of the potential issues caused by Y2K
Some problems did still crop up on January 1, 2000.
In Sheffield, the bug caused miscalculation of the ages of mothers’ and sent incorrect risk assessments for Down Syndrome to 154 pregnant women.
As a direct result, two abortions were carried out and four babies with the syndrome were born to mothers who had previously been told they were in a low risk group.
In Ishikawa, Japan, radiation monitoring equipment failed at midnight, but officials insisted there was no risk to the public. As a result, an alarm sounded at a nuclear power plant at 00:02 in Onagawa.
In the US, computers at ground control station stopped processing information from an unspecified number of spy satellites at midnight, but normal functionality was restored within days.