Why does the internet keep crashing?

Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the recent collapse of the company.  Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the recent collapse of the company. Getty Images

I doubt that Mark Zuckerberg reads the comments people leave on his Facebook posts.

But if he did, it would take him roughly 145 days, without sleep, to make his way through the flood of comments sent to him after he apologized for the collapse of services last week.

“Sorry about the interruption today,” posted the founder and CEO of Facebook, after almost six hours of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram offline.

The company blamed routine maintenance work of the outage: Its engineers had issued a command that unintentionally disconnected Facebook’s data centers from the general internet.

About 827,000 people responded to Zuckerberg’s apology.

The messages ranged from the funny: “It was terrible, I had to talk to my family,” commented an Italian user, to the confused: “I took my phone to the workshop thinking it was broken,” wrote someone from Namibia.

And, of course, there were some very upset and angry: “You can’t make everything close at the same time. The impact is unprecedented, ”posted a Nigerian businessman. Another from India asked for compensation for his business interruption.

What is clear now, if it wasn’t already obvious, is how dependent billions of people have become on these services, not just for fun, but for essential communication and commerce as well.

Illustration for WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram

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What’s also clear is that this is far from unique: Experts suggest that widespread outages are becoming more frequent and more disruptive.

“One of the things that we have seen in recent years is a greater dependence on a small number of networks and companies to deliver large portions of internet content“Says Luke Deryckx, Technical Director of Down Detector.

“When one of those, or more than one, has a problem, it affects not only them, but hundreds of thousands of other services,” he adds.

Facebook, for example, is now used to log into a variety of different services and devicessuch as smart TVs.

“And then, you know, we have these kinds of ‘snow closures’ on the internet that happen now,” says Deryckx. “Something happens [y] We all look at each other as if to say ‘well, what are we going to do?’

Deryckx and his team at Down Detector monitor web services and websites for disruptions.

It says that the widespread outages affecting major services are more and more frequent and more serious.

“When Facebook has a problem, it creates such a huge impact on the internet, but also on the economy and, you know… on society. Millions, or potentially hundreds of millions, of people are just sitting around waiting for a small team in California to fix something. It is an interesting phenomenon that has grown in recent years ”.

Significant landslides

  • October 2021: A “configuration error” brought down Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp for almost 6 hours. Other sites such as Twitter were also disrupted due to the increase in new visits to their applications.
  • July 2021 – More than 48 services including: Airbnb, Expedia, Home Depot, Salesforce were down for about an hour after a domain name system (DNS) bug at content delivery company Akamai. It followed a similar business interruption a month earlier.
  • June 2021 – Amazon, Reddit, Twitch, Github, Shopify, Spotify, various news sites went down for about an hour after a customer of the cloud computing service provider accidentally triggered a previously unknown bug.
  • December 2020: Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, and other Google services went down simultaneously for about 90 minutes after the company said it encountered an “internal storage quota issue.”
  • November 2020 – A technical issue with one of the Amazon Web Service facilities in Virginia, USA, affected thousands of third-party online services for several hours, mostly in North America.
  • March 2019: Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp were down or severely disrupted for about 14 hours after a “server configuration change.” Some other sites, including Tinder and Spotify, that use Facebook to get in, were also affected.

Inevitably, at some point during a major outage, people are concerned that the collapse is the result of some kind of cyberattack.

But experts suggest that, most of the time, it is due to a more mundane case of human error, compounded, they say, by the way the internet is held together with a complex set of outdated and complicated systems.

During the Facebook outage, experts joked on Twitter, saying that some of the usual suspects or reasons for outage issues are “older than the Spice Girls“And are” designed on the back of a napkin. “

Internet scientist Professor Bill Buchanan agrees with this characterization: “The Internet is not the large-scale distributed network that DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the original architects of the internet, attempted to create, which it could withstand a nuclear impact ”.

“The protocols it uses are basically the ones that were written when we connect to central computers from dumb terminals. A single failure in your central infrastructure can cause everything to collapse. “

Professor Buchanan says that improvements can be made to make the internet more resilient, but that many of the fundamentals of the web are here to stay for better or for worse.

“In general, the systems work and you cannot ‘turn off’ certain Internet protocols for a day to try to remake them,” he says.

global communication

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Experts say that internet services have become too centralized.

Rather than trying to rebuild the systems and fabric of the internet, Professor Buchanan believes that we must improve the way we use it to store and share data, or risk more massive disruptions in the future.

It maintains that the internet has become too centralized, that is, when too much data comes from a single source.

That trend must be reversed with systems that have multiple nodes, he explains, so that no single fault can stop a service from operating.

There is a silver lining here. Although major internet disruptions affect the lives of users and businesses, ultimately, they can also help improve internet resilience and the web services connected to it.

For example, Forbes estimates that Facebook lost $ 66 million during the six-hour outage due to the suspension or exodus of advertisers on the site.

That kind of loss is likely focus the minds of top executives on preventing it from happening again.

“They lost a great deal of money that day, not just in their stock price, but also in their operating income,” according to Deryckx.

“And if you look at the disruptions caused by content delivery networks like Fastly and Cloudflare, they also lost a lot of customers to the competition.”

“So I think these operators are doing everything they can to keep things online.”

BBC Mundo

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