Websites Back from the Dark After Fastly Internet Outage

Woman in front laptop looking exasperated

Tuesday was a stark reminder that only a few cloud-based computing companies are keeping the biggest players on the internet up and running at any given time. An internet outage at cloud computing service Fastly caused some of the world’s most-used websites to go down, including the New York Times, the Guardian, Reddit, Spotify, HBOMax, and Amazon. The outage also hit the United Kingdom’s government site, Gov.uk.

Error 503 Service Unavailable: What Happened?

The internet outage began at 9:47 UTC and was recognized by San Francisco cloud computing service provider Fastly immediately. Many feared it was the result of another cyberattack, similar to the recent ransomware attacks on the Colonial Pipeline or JBS Foods. But a spokesman for Fastly said the situation was due to “a technical issue triggered by a service configuration”, and wasn’t “related to a cyber attack”.

Essentially, it was caused by a glitch in a software update.

Nick Rockwell, Fastly’s vice president of engineering, blamed the global disruption on “an undiscovered software bug”. Rockwell said the glitch was triggered by a customer pushing a service configuration change. Fastly identified and disabled the configuration within an hour, and has since distributed the bug fix.

“Even though there were specific conditions that triggered this outage, we should have anticipated it,” Rockwell said.

What is a Content Delivery Network?

Content-delivery networks (CDNs) like Fastly are essential in providing users access to the world’s most popular websites. CDNs use edge servers that are geographically placed around the globe, to deliver that content. These servers cache or store content like video, photos, HTML pages, and JavaScript files in locations physically closer to users so they can retrieve it more efficiently.

Websites like Reddit, the Financial Times, Twitch, and Pinterest all use these servers to increase availability to content and better handle large amounts of internet traffic. CDNs also provide additional security against certain threats like DDoS attacks.

But a CDN serves as a middleman of sorts, and provides service between the online companies and their customers. So when a CDN goes out, so does a user’s access to the site.

How Will I Know About the Next Outage?

Internet outages like these shine a spotlight on just how delicate the internet infrastructure is, and how important CDNs like Cloudflare, Akamai and Fastly are to the internet’s functionality. Since the pandemic hit in 2020, workers have gone remote as more jobs moved online. People across the globe are shopping more, getting grocery and food deliveries, and consuming more entertainment from online outlets. As the world becomes increasingly reliant on the internet, these outages too will become increasingly disruptive.

The next time you have outage issues with your internet, you can check out DownDetector.com. Down Detector provides real-time monitoring so users will know if it’s a local connection issue, or if their favorite sites or services are down.

Tech journalist
Taylor is a tech writer and online journalist with a special interest in cybersecurity and online privacy. He’s covered everything from sports and crime, to explosive startups, AI, cybercrime, FinTech, and cryptocurrency. For VPNOverview.com he follows news and developments in online privacy, cybersecurity, and internet freedom.