At one point during Tuesday morning’s brief global internet outage, The Guardian was covering it for via Twitter thread. “Thus ends my uncomfortable 50 minute period of being the only person in the entire newspaper capable of publishing content,” tech reporter Alex Hern tweeted once the site came back online—at least for him, he noted, as scattered disruptions continued to plague some of the world’s biggest online news platforms, as well as the UK government‘s home page, some Amazon sites, and streaming services like Hulu and HBO Max. The Verge pivoted to Google Docs to share the news with readers (and briefly forgot to restrict the document’s editing abilities, allowing random people to chime in before editors realized what was going on). “We’re all on pins and needles right now,” CNN New Day co-anchor John Berman told his colleague Brian Stelter, who popped onto the program this morning to address the baffling failure as CNN’s own website, along with several other publishers, went dark. “Right now no indication that this is a cyberware or ransomware attack, but it is one of the most widespread web outages that I have ever seen,” said Stelter, CNN’s chief media correspondent.
Early risers signing on to check the latest from major online outlets including the New York Timesthe Financial TimesBBC, and Condé Nast-owned sites like Reddit and Vanity Fair were greeted with unusual error messages amid the temporary but massive crash, which, as of now, doesn’t appear to be rooted in anything malicious. The outage seemed to stem from a problem at Fastly, a content-delivery network (or CDN) that many large companies use to speed up loading times for websites and enhance reliability, among other services, according to the Guardian. Just before 6 am Eastern on Tuesday, the cloud computing provider acknowledged a service issue that had caused disruptions and, about an hour later, stated on its website that “the issue has been identified and a fix has been applied.”
Fastly-supported apps such as Spotify, Pinterest, and Twitch were among other sites and apps impacted; Twitter, PayPal, and Etsy also experienced problems, according to the Times. Madeline Carr, the director of the Research Institute for Sociotechnical Cyber Security, told the Times “there does need to be a level of accountability” for companies that provide the infrastructure for websites, since so many rely on it. “In the last generation of cybersecurity, it was about ensuring websites were protected or had adequate security,” she said, “but when you’re talking about something like Fastly, in a sense it doesn’t matter how secure your own website is .”
The sweeping outage comes on the heels of a ransomware attack that last month caused a multi-day shutdown of America’s largest fuel pipeline, which is why, as Berman noted, cybersecurity concerns were among the immediate reaction to Tuesday’s crash. But even with no apparent foul play involved, that a glitch at one San Francisco-based technology firm took down huge sites in dozens of countries reflects “the reliance that the most popular pages on the internet have on a few big technology firms to help them distribute content and host users,” Bloomberg reports. As Stelter noted, “This is the internet infrastructure, and when the lights flicker, it has global effects.”
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