Hours after Facebook’s systems started coming back online, many social media users are still puzzled regarding what caused the Facebook blackout. What could have caused one of the most consistent, highly monitored, and intelligently-run corporations to have 5hrs+ of downtime on their flagship services? Some have deemed it an internal hack job. Many have even brought up more conspiracies, unequivocally stating that what caused the Facebook blackout had something to do with the company’s whistleblower, Frances Haugen. To some, it is apparent that the former worker’s bad blood could inspire an internal revolt against the company or that the former product manager even embarked on the breach herself. How? Why? Well, nobody can quite explain, and neither can these conspiracy theorists, too, that’s for sure.
Haugen had appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and outed the controversial company for choosing profits over safety. While it is interesting to see how that story develops, it is almost certain that it has nothing to do with today’s blackout. These two things are largely unconnected, so it leads to a dead end.
Other people who are even more far-reaching have suggested that the deliberate leak of the ‘Pandora Papers‘ may have spurred the world’s most affluent and most influential people to defend their interests by infiltrating these social media platforms and disrupting them. According to the proponents of this view, the action of disrupting these social media platforms means that information concerning the Pandora papers is not easily disseminated. Then, when the dust settles and Facebook is back online, nobody would remember the big reveal that had left many minds intrigued and several mouths agape. This is a terrific plot for a Mission: Impossible installment, but for real, it might be a bit much.
What We Know About What Caused Facebook’s Blackout
Online network experts have speculated that what caused the Facebook downtime was likely a DNS error. DNS stands for Domain Name System. So, quick Computer Network class:
We search for domain names (like thenerdstash.com) to find websites. But the browsers can’t recognize this bourgeois language and instead uses IP addresses to find the websites. So, the DNS’ work is to translate domain names to IP addresses so that browsers can locate the web address and load the resources on those server addresses.
Facebook’s problem was that the DNS could not direct browsers to its domain. For whatever reason, the domain that was being fed to the browsers was not returning any information.
What Caused the DNS Error?
John Graham-Cunningham, the chief technology officer of web security firm Cloudflare, said Facebook made a series of updates to its border gateway protocol (BGP) which caused it to ‘disappear’ from the internet. Another cybersecurity expert, Kevin Beaumont, said on Twitter that what caused the Facebook blackout was an ‘epic’ configuration error.
“This one looks like a pretty epic configuration error. Facebook basically (doesn’t) exist on the internet right now. Even their authoritative name server ranges have been BGP withdrawn,” he said.
Whatever affected Facebook, causing the downtime, most certainly affected WhatsApp and Instagram since all platforms are not only owned by the same company but are all run on shared back-end infrastructure. This means that the three platforms all possess a ‘single point of failure’.
What Facebook Said
Facebook said a “faulty configuration change” on its routers was believed to be at the centre of the outage.
It said in a statement: “Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centres caused issues that interrupted this communication.
“This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centres communicate, bringing our services to a halt.
“We want to make clear at this time we believe the root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change. We also have no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of this downtime.”
The platform added it was working to understand more about the outage in order to “make our infrastructure more resilient”.
Monday’s apparent configuration mishap isn’t the first time such an error would be recorded. In July this year, sites like UPS, Airbnb, British Airways, and PlayStation network suffered outages due to an issue within DNS providers Akamai Technologies. Akamai later resolved the issue.
While Downdetector said the October 4 blackout was the largest failure it had ever witnessed, such outages have happened before. It happened for a longer time frame in March 2019 when the company had downtime due to a “server configuration change” that affected the app for 24 hours. Another outage happened in November 2018, when the company had two occasions of downtime—one during a routine test on the 12th, and the other, which happened on the 20th, was not specified. It has also happened for Instagram multiple times this year, howbeit for shorter periods.
Facebook has endured a testing year so far. Earlier this year, it was reported that stolen data belonging to over half a billion Facebook users had leaked online. Structured data belonging to users from 106 different countries were exposed. This data included phone numbers, locations, full names, and email addresses.
Definitely wouldn’t want to be Mark right now.