Fastly’s internet outage shows why we need a WoF for technology | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack


OPINION: Something weird happened on Wednesday night. At 10pm, I was busy doing what I usually do at that time of night: impressing my partner by skillfully toothbrushing with one hand, while scrolling through Twitter on my iPhone with my other, when I discovered something big was happening.

The web was down.

Dozens of websites briefly went offline around the globe after an outage at the cloud service Fastly. The incident illustrates how vital a small number of behind-the-scenes companies have come to running the Internet.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Dozens of websites briefly went offline around the globe after an outage at the cloud service Fastly. The incident illustrates how vital a small number of behind-the-scenes companies have come to running the Internet.

CNN, The Guardian, Amazon, Instagram, and even the UK Government’s website (to name a few) were all victims of the outage.

Panic started to sink in as I stood over my bathroom sink. This was serious, I thought.

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I decisively cut my two-minute brush cycle short and spent the next half an hour doomscrolling my way through my Twitter feed. I found multiple level-headed journalists had resorted to doing their job, reporting the news about the web outage, via long Twitter threads.

One publication even came up with the genius idea of sharing an open Google Doc and covered the breaking story about the breaking internet, that way.

Was this a cyber attack? Could state-sponsored hackers from Russia, North Korea, or China be responsible for this?

No. The problem, I soon found out, was due to a fault at a CDN (Content Delivery Network) company called Fastly.

Panic over.

What went wrong is still a bit of mystery, with Fastly keeping whatever the exact problem was closely guarded.

It only offered a quick Tweet’s worth of information on the issue: “We identified a service configuration that triggered disruptions across our POPs globally and have disabled that configuration.”

Helpful.

Thankfully, the technical problem was resolved in about an hour, and there was no lasting damage.

But the emotional fallout from the outage is, potentially, much bigger. The outage exposed how fragile the current infrastructure is. What’s really surprising is that these sort of outages don’t happen more.

Stuff technology columnist David Court has calmed down and is recovering from a late night web outage.

Abigail Dougherty/Stuff

Stuff technology columnist David Court has calmed down and is recovering from a late night web outage.

The lesson that this episode taught us is a familiar one. As more of our lives move online (as they should), we hand over “more” responsibility to tech companies that enjoy very little regulation over how they operate.

Will Fastly face repercussions for causing this web outage? I doubt it. Fastly is, instead, enjoying a share price bump of about 13 per cent (at the time of writing) thanks to all of the free publicity “a service configuration that triggered disruptions across [its] POPs” won.

It’s almost depressing. Thankfully, there are signs that things are slowly changing as governments (not ours) are beginning to assert control over technology companies.

I’m referring to two stories in particular. First, the effort by the G7 to impose a tax of “at least 15 per cent” on big tech. Finally 🙌

Second, and more significantly, the news that the US Senate approved a bill titled the US Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), designed to increase US competitiveness with China. The bill will see billions of dollars invested into emerging US-based technology like artificial intelligence, semiconductor manufacturing, and quantum computing.

This week’s minor web blip demonstrated how societies rely on strong tech infrastructures to operate properly.

And as a result, I think there’s a strong argument for closer regulation. Making key companies, and employees at all levels, perform the technology equivalent of a WoF isn’t the worst idea in the world.

This isn’t a problem that’s going away on its own.



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