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“After years of IT experts telling us that we ‘can’t break the internet’ by pressing the wrong button, it turns out we can do it by updating our settings.” – Phil Coughlin, The Guardian, Jun 11, 2021
On June 8, an internet blackout was precipitated by one customer updating their settings through a “valid configuration change”. With speed, 85% of the network of the tech infrastructure company Fastly began returning errors. A global outage ensued. “The downed sites,” according to Brian Barrett of Wired, “shared no obvious theme or geography; the outages were global, and they hit everything from Reddit to Spotify to The New York Times.”
Nick Rockwell, the Senior Vice President of engineering and infrastructure at the company, outlined the incident in a blog post. “We experienced a global outage due to an undiscovered software bug that surfaced on June 8 when it was triggered by a valid customer configuration change.” The bug had been introduced in a software deployment on May 12 “that could be triggered by a specific customer configuration under specific circumstances.”
Fastly’s role is important, since it, along with such entities as Akamai and Cloudflare, constitutes part of the content delivery network (CDN) essential to the internet’s infrastructure and the speed with which information is relayed. Such CDN entities are physical manifestations in utilising servers to minimise download times. They supply a service that enables websites, notably those attracting heavy traffic, to retain copies of their pages “closer” to their customers.
Angelique Medina, director of product marketing at network monitoring firm Cisco ThousandEyes, offers an explanation of that function. “It basically enables really high performance for content, whether that’s streaming video or a site or all the little images that pop up when you go to an ecommerce site.” Reuters similarly describes this as offering “a better experience for users,