Around midday Tuesday, a spate of outages across major websites brought online commerce and browsing to a halt for a few hours. Around 11 a.m. in Western Europe, the official UK government site went down as a result of the outages. Other affected sites included Reddit, Amazon, and the New York Times.
At first, users online presumed the outages were the result of some kind of hacking attack. Deliberate attacks were ruled out, however, when a company called Fastly tweeted that they were working on remedying the issue. The issues weren’t related to hackers or vandals after all. The company that hosts cloud processing for the affected websites was having some issues with their configuration settings.
Fastly is a back-end cloud computing company that handles traffic for several major sites online. When the company encountered configuration setting errors this morning, it resulted in a cascade of outages all around the globe. The issue was most profoundly felt in Europe since most people in the US were still sleeping by the time it was resolved.
The outage only lasted for about an hour. Fastly tweeted just after 7:00 AM Eastern Time that they had resolved the issue and that their global network was recovering. The company, which is based in California, offers much of the backbone of the modern internet.
The company has also promised to issue a formal report detailing what exactly caused the configuration settings error that led to the outage in the first place. Interestingly, a similar issue occurred nearly a year ago with one of Fastly’s competitors, a cloud service provider called Cloudflare.
On July 17, 2020, Cloudflare encountered a similar configuration error. After deactivating their Chicago server for maintenance, they inadvertently set the network to reroute all traffic to the Atlanta server, instead of wherever else the traffic needed to go. This caused a widespread outage across huge swaths of the internet.
Ironically, this incident led to many sites dropping Cloudflare as their cloud services provider and switching to Fastly. It is likely that today’s outage was worse because more sites use Fastly’s service as a direct result of the 2020 Cloudflare outage.
The incident has caused an increased amount of attention on content distribution networks like Fastly. They’re a vital part of the modern internet, but outages in their back-end processes can lead to blackouts that affect users globally. Many cybersecurity experts have expressed fear that hackers looking to damage global trade could do so by exploiting weaknesses in content distribution networks.