There are obscure bugs in operating systems that can cause a lot of damage. Although one of them will not threaten for 15 years, there are already numerous preparations to prevent a total failure of important systems.

Perhaps you still remember the turn of the year into the new millennium: With the year 2000 problem , experts feared that systems could crash or deliver incorrect results – with far-reaching consequences in various areas such as finance, energy supply, telecommunications and transport. Companies and governments around the world have therefore invested significant resources in solving this computer bug, and fortunately they have done so successfully. But a similar incident could soon happen, as the year 2038 problem also has the potential to cripple large parts of the IT infrastructure. We explain what it’s all about.

The year 2038 problem and its consequences

A complete failure of many computer systems in 2038 could end badly.  (icon picture)
A complete failure of many computer systems in 2038 could end badly. (icon picture)Image: Created with Midjourney / Patrick Hannemann

The Year 2038 issue is a potential computer security crisis . It results from the way many computer systems store date and time in Unix-based systems. This has been happening in seconds as a 32-bit integer since January 1, 1970.However, the 32-bit limit will be reached on January 19, 2038 at exactly 4:14 am . Then exactly 2,147,483,647 seconds have passed. There is a risk that systems after this date will no longer be able to display or interpret the time stamp correctly. These would then suddenly reset the timestamp to December 13, 1901.This could result in malfunctions or failures in various areas such as:

  • finance
  • power supply
  • telecommunications
  • transport

result when systems are no longer able to provide accurate timestamps or properly log events. Unix-based systems, including all Linux distributions, are often used on servers around the world. More than 

600 distributions will then probably die out completely. But the most important ones like Ubuntu or MXLinux are safe.

This is already being done against the year 2038 problem

Whether there are still people in the year 292,277,026,596 is questionable.
Whether there are still people in the year 292,277,026,596 is questionable.Image: Created with Midjourney / Patrick Hannemann

Companies and governments around the world are currently working to solve the problem by moving to 64-bit systems. These can represent a timestamp up to the year – if humanity still exists in its current form. It is also looking for other solutions to fix year 2038 issue. This includes, for example, using alternative date formats that do not take into account the 32-bit limitation, or using algorithms that solve the problem without switching to the 64-bit operating system.

Is the epoch coming?

The Y2K bug was feared by many at the time, but in the end it almost turned out to be a laughing stock. What most people forget is that many IT professionals have worked hard to prevent the problem. This time it should be similar, and there is still plenty of time in the next 15 years to replace the affected 32-bit systems. In any case, it is exciting to see the impact small decisions can have decades later.


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