Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Oculus services were suddenly and strangely unavailable. And that wasn’t a minor commotion. Downdetector.com, a major online outage monitoring website, declared it the largest global outage it has ever recorded in a blog post, with 10.6 million reports from around the world.
Individuals and organizations throughout the world who rely on Whatsapp to connect with friends, family, colleagues, and clients were hit particularly hard by the outage.
It took over six hours for Facebook to restore service, albeit slowly at first. Surprisingly, the outage was so widespread. To send updates out into the world, Facebook has to resort to using Twitter, a competitor network.
The internet, as well as its visible face (the World Wide Web), is a fault-tolerant machine. It was built to be resiliant, and the internet has never completely gone down. As a result, global disruptions like this are uncommon.
They do, however, occur. Several Google services, including Gmail, YouTube, Hangouts, Google Calendar, and Google Maps, went offline for roughly an hour in December of last year, much to Google’s humiliation.
In June of this year, a cloud computing company that serves the Guardian, the New York Times, Reddit, and The Conversation fell offline as well.
What went wrong?
While Facebook’s administration expressed regret, they provided little information about what caused the outage.
With hacking concerns becoming all too typical in today’s cyber-security threat environment, one could wonder if Facebook’s downtime was caused by a successful breach. However, this appears to be implausible.
The problem, according to a story from The Verge citing Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Infrastructure, appears to be the company’s internal infrastructure.
Facebook engineers were dispatched to one of the company’s data centers in California to investigate the issue, implying that they were unable to access the data center remotely.
According to experts, the outage could have only come from within the organization. It’s possible that Facebook engineers made changes to the network’s setup inadvertently, resulting in a cascade of issues.
Such occurrences have occurred in the past, though seldom with such devastating consequences.
However, due to the very secret nature of Facebook’s network, it’s impossible to tell exactly what went wrong with the setting. We’ll almost certainly never know.
A DNS (Domain Name Server) issue
The fact that when consumers tried to contact facebook.com and whatsapp.com, they received error messages indicating a DNS problem supports the network configuration argument. So the webpages were still there, but they couldn’t be accessed.
DNS stands for Domain Name Server and is referred to as the “internet phonebook.” It converts domain names that we type into computer-readable internet addresses (IP addresses).
The Domain Name Server is consulted when you type a domain name into your browser, such as “facebook.com” or “whatsapp.com,” and the associated encoded internet address, the IP, is called.
The user is then linked to the requested domain once everything is operating properly. According to evidence gathered from professional sources close to Facebook, an external attack appeared unlikely to be the cause of the outage.
A whistleblower raises his or her voice.
The Facebook outage came just hours after the 60 Minutes show in the United States aired an explosive interview with former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old Harvard graduate.
Haugen claims that Facebook’s Instagram program is damaging young girls in a complaint to federal law enforcement and in an interview, and that Facebook’s own research shows the firm “amplifies hate, disinformation, and political instability, but the company covers what it knows.”
To back up his claims, Haugen provided the Securities and Exchange Commission with more than 10,000 pages of internal documents, many of which were very damning.
“What I observed at Facebook over and over again was conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook, and Facebook opted to optimize for its own interests, such as making more money,” she said.
Given the interview’s timing and Facebook’s global outage, it’s understandable to ask if the two events are linked. However, because there is no conclusive evidence to support this notion, a causal link between the two events has yet to be proven.
However, given the gravity of Haugen’s claims and the weight of objective evidence in the form of thousands of insider papers, it’s evident that more inquiry is necessary.
Facebook has a market capitalization of US$1.21 trillion and 2.89 billion monthly active users. By any measure, it is a large and powerful corporation with considerable clout. Now is the time to call attention to the company’s ethics, or lack thereof. Hopefully, there will be no additional outages to stymie this progress.