WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram not working on your smartphone last night? It wasn’t just you. A huge outage caused problems for millions of users around the world. To indicate the sheer scale of this failure, WhatsApp alone has more than two billion users each month – making it the most popular messaging platform in the world. And WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, and Facebook were all offline.
But what is behind the failure, which began around 4:50 p.m. and ended shortly after 11 p.m.?
Facebook recognized the problems pretty quickly and apologized to users within the first hour of the global outage. However, the cause of the problems was kept secret for hours. The California social network posted on Twitter – which is not owned by Facebook and therefore continues to work as expected – the California social network said: “We are aware that some people are having problems accessing our apps and products. We are working to bring things back to normal as soon as possible and we apologize for any inconvenience. “
But what actually caused the failure of WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram?
Santosh Janardhan, who works as Vice President of Infrastructure at Facebook, published a post on the company blog with a (somewhat vague) explanation of what triggered the outage on WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram. The post states: “The underlying cause of this failure also affected many of the internal tools and systems we use in our day-to-day operations, making it difficult for us to attempt to diagnose and fix the problem quickly.
“Our engineering teams learned that configuration changes to the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers were causing problems that disrupted that communication. This disruption in network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate and brought our services to a halt. Our services are now back online and we are actively working to bring them fully back into regular operation. We want to make it clear that at this point in time we see the main cause of this failure as an incorrect configuration change. We also have no evidence that this downtime compromised user data. “
While nothing has been confirmed in this blog post, some are prominent – and extremely reliable – experts believe a DNS problem was really behind the recent global outage.
For those who don’t know, in short, a DNS is a phone book for your device. The first thing that happens when you type a URL into your browser’s address bar – like express.co.uk for example – is that your device translates that text into an IP address that it understands, like 192.168.1.1.
To translate the user-friendly web address in plain text into the computer-literate IP address, your computer uses DNS. This works like a giant phone book that tells your browser which IP address to load in order to take you to the website you are looking for.
According to experts, Facebook’s DNS entries were removed from the global routing tables a few hours ago – which triggered a massive outage. Facebook has yet to confirm whether this triggered the widespread problems with WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger, but a number of DNS providers have shared screenshots that appear to confirm the cause. Previous problems with DNS providers like Cloudflare resulted in outages at a number of popular websites, from Amazon to Discord, Feedly, Shopify, and League of Legends.
What’s different this time around is that Facebook has apparently withdrawn its own DNS records, which would explain why only Facebook-owned platforms were affected by this outage. According to some reports, Facebook’s internal messaging apps that employees use to communicate are also not working. This allegedly hampered the teams’ efforts to coordinate a solution, which could possibly explain why the issues dragged on for so long compared to the WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram outages in the past.
Worst of all, New York Times reporter Sheera Frenkel claims that some Facebook employees cannot enter the office because their security IDs are not recognized by computers. It is possible for employees to have difficulty physically accessing the computer servers necessary to update the records on DNS servers around the world – adding to an already incredibly lengthy outage.
According to one expert, “it will be interesting to see how long it takes” for Facebook to restore its DNS records and services, including WhatsApp and Messenger. This suggests that this will not be an easy solution … and before you consider problems with accessing server rooms and being unable to communicate with colleagues in other offices around the world due to the messaging outage.
With the worldwide failure already in the fifth hour and Facebook’s share price has plummeted, it’s hard to imagine how much worse things can get for Mark Zuckerberg’s empire.
Brian Krebs, a renowned investigative journalist and New York Times Best selling author, explained how the DNS error works. He writes: “Put more simply, sometime this morning Facebook took away the map that was telling the world’s computers how to find their various online properties. So when you type Facebook.com into a web browser, the browser has no idea where to go. ” find Facebook.com and return an error page. “
“In the meantime, several different domain registration companies have put the Facebook.com domain up for sale,” Brain Krebs adds, “There’s no reason to believe that this will actually sell this domain, but it’s fun to think about how many billions of dollars it could raise in the open market.”
Whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has often spoken out against Facebook and its data collection practices, tweeted that “Facebook and Instagram are mysteriously going offline, making the world a healthier place for a bright day.” The former NSA security advisor also took the opportunity to promote an alternative messaging platform called Signal, which uses end-to-end encryption to keep messages, pictures and video calls safe and private.
“The failure of WhatsApp owned by Facebook is a reminder that you and your friends should probably be using a more private, nonprofit alternative like @Signalapp (or any other open source app of your choice) anyway. It’s just as free and lasts 30 seconds to switch, “he tweeted amid the chaos.