Internet outage hits the globe, biggest websites go down, possibly thousands of websites, including Reddit, Speedtest, Github, Twitch, Amazon, Spotify, CNN, The Verge, Vimeo, Twitter, and others, are down. It is likely that they have gone down due to a glitch in some content delivery networks.
Internet outage hits the globe What happened?
For 45 minutes in the UK morning, a significant chunk of the web did not work. People trying to visit a huge array of websites, from the Guardian through Gov.UK to Reddit, Hulu, and the White House, received a blank white page and an error message telling them the connection was unavailable.
The errors were focused on large websites with substantial traffic, but weren’t universal: users in some places, such as Berlin, Germany, reported no problems throughout the outage.
Why did they all go offline?
The cause of the Internet outage was quickly identified as a problem with the “edge cloud” provider Fastly. Within a few minutes, the company admitted on a status page that it was experiencing problems. With the exception of a few providers, including the BBC, which had backup systems in place, every affected website had to wait for Fastly to fix the error before they could restore service.
Could it be an attack?
With Fastly blaming the Internet outage on a “service configuration” and no further evidence to the contrary, it is vanishingly unlikely that the problems were the result of a malicious attack. The investigation into a similar error at Cloudflare last year should give an idea of the sort of problems that could happen: there, a single error on a physical link between Newark and Chicago caused that connection to fail, which led to traffic overloading a connection between Atlanta and Washington DC. An emergency change to try to deal with that overload instead sent all traffic from the entire network to the Atlanta datacentre, which failed itself, and caused the entire system to go down.
Why is it so easy for the internet to go down?
The growing need for speed online has led to a serious concentration of internet infrastructure in the hands of just a few companies. One choke point is content delivery networks, like those operated by Fastly and Cloudflare. Another is cloud hosts, like AWS (formerly Amazon Web Services), Microsoft’s Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. Those providers fail rarely because they are large, specialist services that devote huge resources to resilience and reliability. But occasionally, often through human error, they do fail and can bring huge numbers of sites with them.
It is possible for a site to run on two or more providers, to provide a backup in case one fails, but doing so is expensive, technically complex, and still unlikely to prevent short-term outages. Gov.UK, for instance, ran a backup CDN on Amazon’s CloudFront service – but required manual intervention to switch to the backup.
“Error 503 Service Unavailable,” was the message that appeared on the affected websites.
A content delivery network (CDN) refers to a geographically distributed group of servers that work together to provide fast delivery of Internet content. “We are continuing to investigate this issue. We’re currently investigating potential impact to performance with our CDN services,” Fastly said.
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