On Monday, the whole world experienced a social media blackout as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus were all down for 6 hours which is the longest time these social media apps have experienced an outage.
Facebook has not yet confirmed the root cause of the problem but thanks to the networking experts on the internet, there are varying clues that hint towards the problem or “network of problems” (geddit?). Mark Zuckerberg’s family of apps went into a shutdown mode at 11:40 am ET, the time its Domain Name System (DNS) became unreachable. If you’re not familiar with DNS, it’s basically like an address book for your website where it translates the hostnames such as www.facebook.com into IP addresses where the sites are stored.
It seems like almost 80% of the time a website goes down, it’s because of a DNS mishap that can occur because of a configuration issue or some other problem that can be resolved within minutes. But in this case, the 6-hours breakdown hints towards a more serious problem at the server end. “Facebook’s outage appears to be caused by DNS; however that’s a just symptom of the problem,” said Troy Mursch, chief research officer of cyber threat intelligence company, Bad Packets.
It appears as if Facebook has withdrawn the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) route that contains the IP addresses of its DNS nameservers. In layman’s terms, the BGP is like the navigation system that decides which route the data takes as it travels on the highway of information. Without BGP routes, if you try to ping Facebook’s website, the packets will disappear in a black hole and not reach the destination. So, the mind-boggling question right now is why or how did those BGP routes disappear in the first place? It appears as if a routine BGP update went wrong which resulted in the Facebook servers being cut off from the outside internet, making it difficult even for the Facebook employees to revert the changes as they were blocked from accessing the domain.
Facebook’s vague statements aren’t helping much either as the multi-tech giant just tweeted that it’s “working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.” And after the breakout finally came to an end, Facebook issued yet another non-technical response to the whole incident.
In today’s age where everyone is heavily reliant on social media for their official as well as personal communications, the mere 6 hours disrupted many people’s routines and businesses and it felt like we had teleported back in time to the era when the internet didn’t exist. It’s a reminder and a warning that we shouldn’t be too interdependent on these social media apps because anything can go wrong in an instant.