A company you’ve probably never heard of caused half the internet to go dark

A company you’ve probably never heard of caused half the internet to go dark

2021-06-08 14:20:00
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After a failure at cloud computing service provider Fastly, masses of websites went down on Tuesday morning. Internet users could not access major news channels, e-commerce platforms, and even government websites. Everyone from Amazon to the New York Times to the White House was affected.

At around 6:30 a.m. ET, Fastly said it had put in a "fix" to the problem, and many of the websites that were down appeared to be working again as of 9:00 a.m. ET. Still, the outage shows just how dependent, centralized, and vulnerable the infrastructure that supports the Internet — particularly cloud computing providers that the average user doesn't interact with directly — actually is. This is at least the third time in less than a year that a problem at a major cloud computing provider has left countless websites and apps on the shelf.

Fastly is a content delivery network (CDN), which maintains a network of servers that quickly transfer content from websites to users. The company, which counts Shopify, Stripe and countless media outlets as customers, promises "lightning fast delivery" and "advanced security". The nature of such a network also means that problems can spread quickly and affect many of those customers at once. In the case of Tuesday's incident, Fastly says it "identified a service configuration that was causing disruptions" around the world. It took about two hours from the time the problem was identified until a solution was implemented.

At this time, there is no reason to suspect that the outage was the result of a cyber attack. Still, the outage comes amid a slew of recent cyber incidents that have impacted everything from the global meat supply to a major oil pipeline in the United States.

Still, it is clear that the outage has caused temporary chaos. The website Down detector, which tracks complaints about website outages, shows a slew of sites received a surge in complaints this morning, not only for media outlets like the New York Times and CNN, but also for Reddit, Spotify, and Walt Disney World. Outages at payment systems like Stripe and ecommerce platforms like Shopify also suggest money could have been lost on transactions that didn't go through, though it's unclear as of yet if that's the case.

All Vox Media websites, including this one, were offline for half an hour. The Verge, owned by Vox Media, switched to offer its content on Google Docs before web users flooded the document and started editing (editors accidentally left the page unobstructed).

The magnitude of Tuesday's outage — and the frequency of major outages like this one — is truly concerning. Last July there were connectivity issues between two of Cloudflare's data centers finally took many sites, including Politico, League of Legends, and Discord, are briefly offline. Than, a data processing issue for Amazon Web Services last November caused problems for sites like the Chicago Tribune, the security camera company Ring, and Glass door. Fastly's outage shows that the trend is continuing, especially as most of the web continues to increasingly rely on cloud providers.

While the issue appears to be resolved for now, it will take some time to measure the damage caused by even just a few hours of downtime at a major cloud computing provider. And that leaves the world anxiously waiting for the next time this happens.


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