On October 4th, 2021 everyone on Earth who uses Facebook and its services, as well as the company’s other properties WhatsApp and Instagram, probably thought that there was something wrong with their internet connection, or device, as communications began to lose stability. Suddenly, Facebook employees were not able to access their internal corporate messaging or enter their place of work because their badges were not functioning. A major communications outage of historical proportions was taking place.
The outage went on for several hours and caused a mass migration of billions of users to other prominent social media platforms like Twitter. As the masses flocked to Twitter, Twitter tweeted “hello literally everyone.” Telegram and Signal then saw a massive influx of millions of users to their portals.
As it stands, financial damage to Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth due to the incident is estimated to be in the billions, as Facebook shares dropped sharply following the incident. According to NetBlocks’ calculations, the cost of the shutdown itself incurred to the economy is estimated to be around $160 million. The next day, October 5th, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey posted the number “6”, possibly referring to the fact that Zuckerberg is now the 6th richest person in the world. Even so, Facebook shares were quickly out of the red looking better early on Tuesday, October 5th.
Edward Snowden himself took the opportunity to say in a tweet that this may be a good time to switch to a “more private, non-profit alternative” like Signal, “(or another open-source app of your choice)” he added.
Around 16:00 UTC, internet traffic related to Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp would seize up and drop to zero. Soon after, messages would stop being delivered on WhatsApp, Facebook’s services stopped responding and Instagram froze. Millions of confused netizens across the globe were met with unresponsive Facebook feeds, Instagram notifications like “Could not deliver,” and WhatsApp notifications such as “Some messages not sent,” as the outage deepened. Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram all tweeted similarly, ensuring that they are “aware” of the problems. Facebook themselves were “sincerely” apologizing for the inconveniences caused.
Nearly every possible news portal latched on to the incident and began reporting soon after the global outage, that according to an article on cybersecurity researcher Brian Krebs‘ website Krebs on Security took place precisely at 15:39 UTC (11:39 a.m ET). Krebs on Security wrote that, according to San Francisco network monitoring company Kentik director Doug Madory, “Madory said at approximately 11:39 a.m. ET today (15:39 UTC), someone at Facebook caused an update to be made to the company’s Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) records.” This meant that “Facebook took away the map telling the world’s computers how to find its various online properties.”
Twitter was buzzing with tweets, especially when it comes to IT experts with differing opinions on what caused the incident; whether it was a potential cyberattack or human error. According to J.Eckert, the situation was dire; “This facebook outage is a WAY bigger issue than I think some realize, or they are willing to admit. Their entire DNS record has been wiped from the internet across all root servers. Either the most sophisticated & coordinated hack of all time, OR the biggest human error ever.”
A little later, Twitter, Gmail, Tiktok, Snapchat, Telegram, and others had all experienced slowdowns.
Facebook, which owns WhatsApp and Instagram, is a social media colossus that has paved the way for social networking and social networking innovation. It has connected billions of people around the world. However, the company is facing a severe downfall especially after information security and privacy scandals, now outages, and whistleblower worries. This is not the first time the company has suffered an outage, but by comparison to the famous 2008 incident, this could be the worst one since then.
These major outages come at an already difficult time in a turbulent new decade that is ushering in unprecedented geopolitical and geoeconomic paradigm shifts. The timing of the outage is particularly curious as it takes place when news of the Pandora Papers incident is being revealed, and hours after ‘whistleblower’ Frances Haugen who leaked information about Facebook, aired on CBS’s 60 minutes. Furthermore, the fact that these outages may point not to ‘human error’, but a cyberattack, is only supported by the fact that nation-state cybercriminal group activity is picking up again.
The Situation Right Now
As of right now, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and other services are back online. Online news portal The Independent’s live outage timeline feed is being updated constantly as the situation progresses. Threatpost mentioned that the CEO of Gurucul Saryu Nayyar said “if the Facebook outage does turn out to be caused by attackers, they’re probably pissed off about Facebook’s business practices.” According to the Threatpost article Nayyar then added, “If they are attackers, they respond by attacking – in this case, possibly a DDoS attack that flooded the company’s DNS server.” Brian Krebs tweeted information from Facebook that stated configuration changes on “backbone routers that coordinate network traffic” between Facebook’s data centers were what caused the “interruption”. This had a “cascading effect” on the way the data centers communicate, thus bringing them to a “halt.” Signal tweeted that “millions of new people have joined Signal today” which Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey approved in a tweet. Millions of users also signed up for Telegram.
Editor’s Note: This post was initially published on October 4th, 2021, and has since been updated with new information on October 5th, 2021 to reflect developments regarding the incident.