What caused the unprecedented outage of Facebook? The few clues point to a problem from within


OPINION: Suddenly and inexplicably, the services of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and Oculus disappeared. And it was not a local disturbance. In a blog post, Downdetector.com, a leading online outage monitoring service, called it the largest global outage on record – with 10.6 million reports from around the world.

The outage had a particularly strong ripple effect on individuals and businesses around the world who rely on Whatsapp to communicate with friends, family, colleagues and customers.

It took Facebook nearly six hours to bring the services back online, albeit slowly at first. Ironically, the outage was so widespread that Facebook had to resort to Twitter, its rival platform, to spread updates around the world.

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The Internet and its visible face (the World Wide Web) is a remarkably fault-tolerant machine. It was designed to be resilient – and the web was never completely gone. As such, global blackouts like this are quite rare.

But they are coming. Much to Google’s embarrassment, several of its services, including Gmail, YouTube, Hangouts, Google Calendar, and Google Maps, went offline for about an hour in December of last year.

And in June of this year, a cloud computing company that serves clients such as The Guardian, The New York Times, Reddit, and The Conversation also went offline.

It took Facebook nearly six hours to bring the services back online, albeit slowly at first.  Ironically, the outage was so widespread that Facebook had to resort to Twitter, its rival platform, to spread updates around the world.

Patrick Sison / AP

It took Facebook nearly six hours to bring the services back online, albeit slowly at first. Ironically, the outage was so widespread that Facebook had to resort to Twitter, its rival platform, to spread updates around the world.

What caused it?

While Facebook management apologized, it gave no indication of the cause of the outage.

With hacking issues becoming all too common in today’s environment of cybersecurity threats, the question arises as to whether the Facebook crash could have been the result of a successful hack. But that seems unlikely.

According to a report from The Verge referring to Facebook’s CTO and vice president of infrastructure, it appears the problem was likely Facebook’s internal infrastructure.

Facebook engineers were sent to one of the company’s data centers in California to work on the issue, implying that they were unable to remotely connect to the data center.

Experts said the outage could only come from inside the company. It’s likely that Facebook engineers inadvertently changed the network configuration, creating a cascading set of issues.

Such events have happened before, but not with such a catastrophic effect.

However, given the highly confidential way in which Facebook operates its network, it is not possible to know exactly what happened with the network setup. We will probably never be told.

A domain name server problem

In support of the explanation of the network configuration, the error messages that appeared when people tried to contact facebook.com and whatsapp.com indicated that it was a DNS issue. The websites therefore still existed, but were not accessible.

DNS stands for Domain Name Server and is described as the “Internet phone book”. It translates the domain names we read into encoded Internet addresses (IP addresses) for computers to read.

When you enter a domain name such as “facebook.com” or “whatsapp.com” in your browser, the domain name server is consulted and the corresponding coded Internet address, the IP, is called.

When everything works as it should, the user is then connected to the requested domain. Based on the evidence gleaned from expert sources close to Facebook, it seems highly unlikely that the outage was caused by an external attack.

A whistleblower speaks

The Facebook outage happened just hours after 60 minutes A TV show aired an inflammatory interview with former Facebook employee and whistleblower, Frances Haugen, 37, a Harvard graduate.

In a complaint to federal law enforcement and in the interview, Haugen alleges that Facebook’s Instagram app harms teenage girls and that Facebook’s own research indicates that the company “amplifies hatred, misinformation and political unrest, but the company is hiding what it knows ”.

To substantiate the claims, Haugen shared over 10,000 pages of internal documentation with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission – all pretty damning things. She said:

“What I saw on Facebook over and over was that there was a conflict of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook, and Facebook chose over and over again to ‘optimize for their own interests, such as earning more money. “

Given the timing of the interview and Facebook’s global outage, it’s natural to wonder if the two events are related. However, in the absence of definitive evidence to support this theory, no causal link has been established between the two events.

But given the seriousness of Haugen’s claims and the weight of objective evidence in the form of thousands of insider documents, it’s clear that further investigation is warranted.

Facebook has approximately 2.89 billion monthly active users and a market capitalization of US $ 1.21 trillion (NZ $ 1.74 trillion). At all levels, it’s a big and powerful company with a lot of influence. Now is the time to shed light on its ethics, or lack thereof.

Hopefully there will be no more blackouts to slow this process down.

David Tuffley is Senior Lecturer in Applied Ethics and Cybersecurity at Griffith University.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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