Modern, Western post-industrial societies and our complex technological systems are subject to risks unparalleled in the history of mankind. These risks expose vulnerabilities in our technologies, our societies and our personal selves, as we become immersed in technologies without which our cultures cannot function.
The proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) into all aspects of life poses unique risks for all of us.At the heart of ICTs lies the software which gives the computer its purpose. The aim of this thesis is to investigate how social and organizational factors influence the vulnerability of software systems and their users. The site where software is produced is studied through interviews among software developers. An interdisciplinary approach is employed; using theories of risk and vulnerability of complex technological systems, as well as theories from organizational sociology and software engineering. Scott A. Snook’s theory of practical drift is used as the basis for further analysis.
Four areas are identified where social factors compel software developers to drift away from a global set of rules constituting software development processes and methods. Issues of pleasure and control, difference in mental models, undue production pressures, and fragmentation of responsibility all contribute to an uncoupling from established practices designed to guarantee the reliability of software.
The implications of these factors in terms of vulnerabilities of software systems, its users, and ultimately of our societies are discussed. Directions for future research are identified, and a hope for the future is expressed, where software will be produced that instead of avoiding risks, tries to anticipate them.
Keywords: risk, vulnerability, software vulnerability, practical drift, information society