Facebook down: Why the main social networks crashed for six hours on Monday

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On Monday, a giant blackout blocked three of the world’s major social networks – Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram – for six hours. A historically long duration, which makes it the “most important failure ever observed” by Downdetector, which records user reports, and which will have impacted billions of users around the world.

“We apologize to those who have been affected,” Facebook said on Monday. But how do you explain such a massive outage? 20 minutes make the point.

What happened ?

This Monday, between 5:45 p.m. and midnight French time, 14 million users of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp reported difficulties to connect, and billions more were affected: it was impossible to connect, send messages messages or even refresh the page of these social networks. All of these services are owned by one company: Facebook. Everything was down, from these social networks to the badges and mailboxes of the company’s employees. This would partly explain the duration of the outage: difficult to resolve an internet crisis when you can no longer connect to it.

The outage came from Facebook, so it only affected social networks and sites that the digital giant owns. For example, Twitter, which does not belong to Mark Zuckerberg, was not affected – and did not deny itself to send a few spades to its HS competitors.

It would be a DNS network problem (Domain Name System or “domain name system”). To popularize, a DNS connects the IP address (a sequence of numbers) and a Web site, with a Web address much easier to copy and read by humans. It would be impossible – or very tedious – to connect to websites with just the IP address. Problems like this have happened to Facebook before, but the bug only lasted a few minutes.

Facebook has its own DNS, which was rendered inoperative this Monday evening. The problem would precisely come from BGP (Border Gateway Protocol), which allows companies, operators and internet service providers to be linked together (in particular Facebook), and more specifically ASes (for Autonomous Systems). “To picture it, you have to imagine that each entity is an island, and each island connects with the others via bridges. Thus, we obtain routes to go to different islands ”, comments Cécile Morange, Network and Data Center technician, interviewed by 20 minutes : “Facebook would have made a configuration error on its routers – equipment that allows data to be transported between different networks – which resulted in the disappearance of the roads that indicated where to go to reach Facebook. “

It is the absence of this reference route that would explain why it is not the only Facebook that has crashed, but also all the services related to the company. “Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp do not have the same IPs, but all their IPs are under the same AS number – island number, if we continue with my metaphor – used by BGP to be able to identify the different entities announcing IPs. In this case, since all the bridges to the island have disappeared, it was not possible to reach either Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp, whatever the IP address of these services, ”explains Cécile Morange.

For the moment, nothing suggests a cyberattack. It could be a simple update that got out of hand. In a statement, Facebook refers to a “faulty configuration change”. What Cécile Morange confirms: “There would have been no hacking or hacking during this incident, as some might have suggested. “

Do users of these networks have to change their password?

Many internet users advise changing passwords, due to a potential data breach. But as we said above, nothing suggests a cyberattack with regard to the Facebook failure.

Another case is ongoing in parallel, concerning an alleged data leak of 1.5 billion Facebook profiles. The latter would be for sale on the darkweb, following a cyberattack carried out shortly before the Facebook bug, but which therefore had nothing to do with it, constituting a simple coincidence. However, here too we must proceed with caution. Such a collection of data would be unprecedented, and would consist of a real feat. Nothing says that this rumor is credible and that the data was indeed stolen.

Better to wait a bit before getting carried away and changing your passwords. While rebooting Facebook, it could instead block your account.

What consequences for the Gafa?

The adage is known, the misfortune of some makes the happiness of others. Social networks and digital messaging still functioning were the big beneficiaries of this blackout. Telegram messaging has gone from 56th to 5th place among the most downloaded free applications in the United States, according to the specialist firm SensorTower. Twitter also saw an influx and new accounts and connections, so much so that the site, too, rowed heavily and risked crashing several times as well.

Facebook, meanwhile, closed down 4.9% on Wall Street on Monday, after having yielded some 6% in session: in total, the fortune of Mark Zuckerbeg has therefore melted by $ 6 billion on the stock market. A (very) bad Monday.

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