We all temporarily lose Internet service now and then. It happens. Usually it reconnects pretty quickly. Unless there’s a power outage in the area. In which case we have to wait before we can send and receive emails, check out websites, etc.
But once in a while, an Internet outage will not only affect individuals in their homes and offices. Some outages actually take down entire websites. Including the big boys.
That’s what occurred on July 22. The Akamai global content delivery network confirmed a widespread outage to its Edge DNS service.
“DNS” stands for “Domain Name System.” It’s similar to a phone book for websites. The technology figures out the right IP addresses to use when people try to visit websites.
The same thing happened with Oracle. Both Akamai and Oracle are key providers of Internet infrastructure services. An Oracle representative said its outage was caused by Akamai’s service disruption.
Major Companies’ Websites Go Down
Probably only a few of us could describe what a global content delivery network does.
But all of us are familiar with some of the companies whose websites were taken down by the outage. Including Amazon, UPS, FedEx, AT&T and McDonald’s.
Other companies affected included Disney, Capital One, Home Depot, and Costco. Plus AirBNB, British Airways, and Delta and Southwest Airlines. As well as the PlayStation network used for online games.
Here’s an example of the problems the outage caused. Delta Airlines customers were unable to use the airline’s website or app to check into their flights.
Software Bug Is Blamed
The outage did not last long but it has caused concern. Something similar happened in June as well.
That’s when Fastly was hit with an outage and some of the world’s top websites went down. Including The New York Times and Reddit. As well as the British government’s homepage.
A Fastly representative explained the global outage as a software bug. He said it was triggered by a “valid customer configuration change.” A cyberattack was not suspected.
Yet another major Internet outage occurred in June. It affected banks, stock exchanges and trading platforms. It was blamed on a bug in a service that helps mitigate distributed denial-of-service attacks.
DownDetector is an Internet outage monitoring platform. When these outages occurred, DownDetector reported thousands of problems from its users. The problems existed across dozens of platforms. Banks such as Barclays, Lloyds and Halifax were affected.
Not Enough Players in the Game
If nothing else, these recent Internet outages are concerning for two reasons. One, only a few behind-the-scenes companies are responsible for keeping global Internet networks running. Such as Fastly, Akamai and Oracle.
Two, the outages show how vulnerable these companies are. Especially to issues that can cause serious disruption.
Certainly saboteurs know this. If they can successfully strike a small number of companies, they can wreak havoc around the world.
That’s despite the fact that Internet infrastructure service providers build multiple redundancies into their content delivery networks. And their other hosting services.
Suicide Bomber Took Down Internet
A previous major Internet outage is still fresh in the public’s minds. Especially here in Nashville, Tennessee where 4Patriots is located.
On Christmas morning 2020, a suicide bomber detonated a recreational vehicle downtown on Second Avenue.
No one else died from the blast felt miles away. But eight people were injured. Including two police officers. They had spent the previous hour evacuating residents.
More than 40 businesses were damaged. Including one in a nearby building that collapsed. The explosion set cars on fire and blew trees apart. Debris was found two blocks away.
Aiming for Disruption?
We may never learn the bomber’s motivation. But the attack appeared to be more about destruction than about hurting people.
His RV was parked just outside an AT&T network hub. The bomber may have aimed for a communication breakdown. If so, he succeeded. AT&T experienced service outages across the country. Especially in middle Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama.
Following the blast, flames broke out in the red brick AT&T building. And three feet of water was standing in the basement. Fire and flooding damaged their backup power generators.
Damage included connection points within the telecom giant’s facility. They are used for regional Internet and wireless communications.
Infrastructure Weaknesses Revealed
Internet, cellular, wireline telephone and U-verse television services all went down. A number of 9-1-1 and non-emergency phone networks also experienced interruptions. The Nashville airport, government offices and hospitals were affected.
Some of these communication disruptions went on for days. A number of area stores temporarily switched to cash-only transactions. Due to credit card systems being out of service.
As with recent Internet outages, this incident showed our nation’s infrastructure vulnerability. When multistate communications are disabled by a single explosion, it reveals weaknesses.
Nick Enger is chief technology officer of Advanced Technology Consulting, Inc. He said the way networks are developed across the U.S. makes them susceptible to disruption. Either accidental or intentional.
We might not be able to stop Internet outages affecting large regions and companies’ websites. But we can help ourselves by making sure we have what we need to provide backup power.