Software bugs cost $59.5 billion a year, study says

Software bugs cost the U.S. economy an estimated US$59.5 billion per year, or 0.6 percent of the gross domestic product, according to a newly released study by the U.S. Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

In a statement released on Friday, NIST said more than half the costs are borne by software users and the remainder by software developers and vendors. Additionally, the study found that although errors cannot be removed, more than a third of the costs, or an estimated $22.2 billion, could be eliminated by improved testing that enables earlier and more effective identification and removal of defects.

Currently, more than half of errors are not found until "downstream" in the development process or during post-sale use of software, according to NIST.

The study was funded by NIST and conducted by the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) in North Carolina.

NIST said software is error-ridden in part because of growing complexity. Developers already spend about 80 percent of development costs on identifying and correcting defects, and yet few products of any type other than software are shipped with so many errors.

Other factors contributing to quality problems include marketing strategies, limited liability by software vendors, and decreasing returns on testing and debugging, the study found. The core issue is difficulty in defining and measuring software quality, according to NIST.

RTI in its study identified a set of quality attributes and used them to construct metrics to estimate costs of inadequate testing infrastructures. Based on similarities across different industries with respect to software development and use, RTI projected the cost to the entire U.S. economy to be $59.5 billion annually.

To boost software quality, testing needs to be improved, NIST said. Standardized testing tools, suites, scripts, reference data, and implementations and metrics that have undergone a rigorous certification process would have a large impact on inadequacies that now plague software markets, NIST said.

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