Scores of websites went down on Tuesday morning after an outage at cloud computing service provider Fastly. Internet users were denied access to major news outlets, e-commerce platforms, and even government websites. Everyone from Amazon to the New York Times to the White House has been affected.
At around 6:30 am ET, Fastly said he had applied a “fix” to the problem and that many down websites appeared to be working again at 9:00 am ET. Still, the outage highlights just how dependent, centralized, and sensitive the infrastructure supporting the Internet – especially cloud providers that the average user doesn’t directly interact with – is. This is at least the third time in less than a year that an issue at a major cloud computing provider has led to countless websites and apps being obscured.
Fastly is a content delivery network (CDN), which operates a network of servers that quickly transfer content from websites to users. The company, which has Shopify, Stripe, and countless media outlets as customers, promises “Lightning fast delivery” and “advanced security”. The nature of such a network also means that problems can spread quickly and affect several of these customers at once. In the case of Tuesday’s incident, Fastly said he “identified a service configuration that triggered disruption” around the world. He took about two hours from the time the problem was identified until a fix is implemented.
At the moment, there is no reason to believe that the outage was the result of a cyber attack. Yet the outage comes amid a host of recent cyber incidents that have impacted everything from global meat supply to a major oil pipeline in the USA.
Still, it’s clear that the blackout caused momentary chaos. The site Failure detector, which tracks complaints about website failures, shows that a large number of sites received a slight increase in complaints this morning, not only for outlets like the New York Times and CNN, but also for Reddit, Spotify and Walt Disney World. Crashes in payment systems like Stripe and e-commerce platforms like Shopify also suggest that money could have been lost in failed transactions, although it is not yet clear whether this is the case. case.
All of Vox Media’s websites, including this one, have been offline for half an hour. The Verge, which is owned by Vox Media, transitioned to offer its content on Google Docs before Internet users invaded the document and started to modify it (the editors accidentally left the page unrestricted).
The scale of Tuesday’s outage – and the frequency of major outages like this – is what is truly concerning. Last July, connection problems between two of the data centers operated by Cloudflare finally took many sites, including Politico, League of Legends, and Discord, are briefly offline. Then, a computer problem for Amazon Web Services last November caused problems for sites like the Chicago Tribune, security camera company Ring and Glass door. Fastly’s outage shows that the trend is continuing, especially as much of the web remains increasingly dependent on cloud providers.
While the issue appears to be resolved for now, it will take some time to measure the damage from a few hours of downtime at a large cloud computing provider. And that leaves the world looking forward to the next time it happens.