The world got a shock in the early hours of Tuesday morning as numerous major websites were hit with internet outages and sent offline.
Thousands of government, news, and social media websites around the world experienced about an hour of internet outage linked to U.S.-based cloud company Fastly Inc. Websites including the British government, The New York Times, CNN, The Financial Times, and The Guardian were inaccessible during the outage. Other sites, including Etsy, Hulu, PayPal, Reddit, Twitch, and Twitter, also reported problems.
Fastly is the operator of a content-delivery network service that many websites use to help speed the load time of their pages. The company said Tuesday that a service configuration problem was causing the outages. The trouble began around 6 a.m. Eastern Time and was resolved before 7 a.m. when Fastly applied a fix to the issue and websites started coming back online.
According to Doug Madory, director of internet analysis for Kentik, a cloud company that assists large companies with network problems, three-quarters of the traffic coming from Fastly disappeared when the system went down.
“The issue has been identified and a fix has been applied. Customers may experience increased origin load as global services return,” said Fastly in a statement, explaining that the issue involved “a service configuration that triggered disruptions across our POPs globally.”
Fastly operates an edge cloud network, which means the company stores content from its clients’ websites on a large number of servers that are closer to where potential users are located. This type of content-delivery network reduces the amount of time it takes information to reach end-users. Unfortunately, while the setup is great for speeding up load times and streaming, it also makes the websites on the network vulnerable to failures.
“Incidents like this underline the fragility of the internet and its independence on a patchwork of fragmented technology. Ironically, this also underlines its inherent strength and how quickly it can recover,” said Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight. “The fact that an outage like this can grab headlines around the world shows how rare it is.”
Outages of this nature often hit businesses in the same sector because these companies rely on the same third-party services. For example, in August 2020, CenturyLink, an internet service provider meant to keep websites up and running, went down for a large part of a day. When the service went down, companies like Cloudflare, Hulu, the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, Feedly, Discord, and dozens of other services reported connectivity problems.
“All of these websites really depended on this one third-party service, and the slight disruption in that caused this disproportionate effect,” said Marie Vasek, a lecturer in information security at University College London.