The October 4 outage came a day after a Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, spoke out publicly for the first time in an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes and in a profile in The Wall Street Journal ahead of scathing Congressional testimony. Jake Dewoskin, director of insider risk engineering at insider risk detection and response company Code42, said in an interview with a Minneapolis FOX affiliate, “I think they’re absolutely related.”
“This kind of visible attack, where services are unavailable, [tends] to fall more in the social and political commentary segment of hacking or hacktivism,” Dewoskin added. But Michael Vieau, a member of the penetration testing team at professional services firm Sikich LLP, doubts whether an external cyberattack is to blame. “The internet is an incredibly fragile place,” Vieau told a Wisconsin NBC affiliate. “The fact that [all of the apps were] taken down leads me to believe something internal has happened,” ranging from a programming accident to an employee hack.
Cisco’s Internet analysis unit, Thousand Eyes, has said that Facebook underwent a Domain Name Service failure, a flaw in the system that connects readable domain names to numeric IP addresses, as GovInfo Security notes. Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure Santosh Janardhan said in a blog post that the outage stemmed from “configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers.” Janardhan added, “This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt.”
Whatever the cause of the incident, cybersecurity experts warned that it shows the vulnerability of information online. Bill Lawrence, chief information security officer with the firm SecurityGate, told GovInfo Security, “Outages like this show that, for all that was learned since the DDoS attack on Dyn in October of 2016, five years later the internet remains fragile when services like DNS get interrupted for some reason.”
More than 3.5 billion people worldwide use Facebook, as The New York Times notes, and the company’s last major outage was in 2019.
Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor of communications at Cornell University, told the Times: “The abruptness of [Facebook’s] outage highlights the staggering level of precarity that structures our increasingly digitally mediated work economy.”