[News] Hello literally everyone
For a roughly six-hour window on one day in October, the world seemed a little more rational, less frenetic, and a tad bit more peaceful. That’s because, for a large chunk of the day, Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Oculus, and Whatsapp were unavailable for everyone.
When you went to the site, it looked something like this, as if the facebook.com domain didn’t even exist.
There are plenty of post-mortem articles out there explaining what happened to bring down all of Facebook’s different products, but here’s the official explanation, according to Facebook’s blog:
Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication. This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt.
Wired and others have offered their own reviews of the outage, suggesting Facebook withdrew its Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) route with the IP addresses of its DNS nameservers. Or as someone on Hacker News put it, Facebook’s error “basically turned every device, especially mobile devices with the app running in the background, into botnet clients which are continually hitting their DNS servers.” (For more, Gizmodo offers a pretty good rundown.)
The immediate consequence of the outage was that just about everyone took the opportunity to make jokes about the situation.
Twitter, the largest social media platform still functional during the outage (though it, too, saw some slowdowns), announced, “hello literally everyone,” which was not far from the truth, as people turned to Twitter to find out what was going on.
But as amusing as the situation was for some Internet dwellers, the outage pointed to a number of broader issues.
Facebook’s problems occurred the day after a brutal interview aired on 60 Minutes in the US. The show featured whistleblower Frances Haugen, formerly the lead Product Manager on Facebook’s Civic Misinformation team. She slammed Facebook’s algorithm that prioritizes content designed to anger viewers in order to spark the strongest engagement numbers. She also criticized Facebook for not doing enough to reduce political disinformation or content that could be harmful to teens.
This past Tuesday Haugen testified for more than three hours in front of the US Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security about the effects of social media on teenagers. As reported by The New York Times, she explained how Facebook had buried research about how its products impacted teenagers and also how it intentionally allowed hateful content to increase engagement. She also addressed how misinformation stoked ethnic violence in several countries and contributed to the January 6 riot in the US Capitol.
Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg denied these claims in a post published on the platform, saying “It’s difficult to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives. At the most basic level, I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted.”
In a tweet after the social network went offline, Edward Snowden piggybacked on Haugen’s interview, noting how an absence of Facebook could lead to positive outcomes:
During the outage, people couldn’t access Facebook or Messenger to check in with their friends and family members. According to Bloomberg, Facebook’s absence led to a significant boost in downloads for alternative chat apps such as Signal and Telegram that in some cases also offer enhanced privacy protections.
The Facebook outage also directly impacted thousands of businesses all over the world. Many business owners discovered that they had lost their main conduit to communicating with customers about sales or specials. Others could not advertise new product launches or communicate with groups. Without a standalone website or mailing list, many businesses had both hands tied behind their backs for the duration of the downtime.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of apps and websites use the Facebook API as their login portals, and Facebook’s downtime meant all kinds of online activity—from shopping websites to games to online restaurant ordering—was inaccessible. This led to significant revenue losses for companies around the world.
These issues for small businesses opened the door to a discussion of the need to diversify a company’s online presence.
As WP Tavern put it, “Businesses put themselves in a vulnerable place when they rely on a walled garden to deliver audience engagement….It’s time to invest in the long-term health of your online presence by building on the open web.”
In other news
- It’s a ten-minute space orbit, Jim. William Shatner, who played Star Trek’s famous Captain, Jim Kirk, is to become the oldest person to travel into space at 90 years of age. Joining three other passengers aboard Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin New Shepard spacecraft, the group departs from Texas on October 12th. As with the previous maiden flight in July, this second voyage will take the crew just beyond the Karman Line — the most widely recognized boundary of space which lies 100km (60 miles) above the Earth. Fellow passengers include Blue Origin’s vice president, Audrey Powers, and tech entrepreneurs, Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen, and Medidata co-founder Glen de Vries.
Shatner must truly feel like he’s conquering that final frontier. He quipped, “I’ve heard about space for a long time now. I’m taking the opportunity to see it for myself. What a miracle.” Considering we’re not yet in an age like Star Trek where space travel is all part of daily life, we salute you as you go forth into the unknown, Captain!
- Quantum breakthroughs in photonics could be a climate saver. A UK firm hopes to move the emerging quantum computer manufacturing industry in two new directions, ending our dependence on semiconductors and expensive cooling systems. Orca Computing, led by Oxford Professor Ian Walmsley, has manufactured four small-sized quantum computers powered by photonics. Orca’s computers are small, housed in a standard rack, and photonics eliminates the need for freezing temperatures. The savings on storage, power costs, and the climate change implications are significant. The only catch? Orca’s current quantum models have the processing power comparable to an Apple Watch — but they aim to scale.
In contrast, American firms, Rigetti, Google, and IBM have all developed powerful quantum computers but these are expensive to make and store. And the shape’s not very practical, either. Rigetti’s Mandy Birch describes their model as resembling “a golden chandelier with wires coming off it”. Next year, Standard Chartered Bank will trial Rigetti’s computer. The superconductor run unit requires nitrogen storage, and the quantum computer housing needs batteries, trailing wires, a cooling infrastructure, and an industrial-sized unit for its size — all significantly less planet-friendly in the long term.
Birch agrees “it’s early days” for the industry, while Orca’s Richard Murray is hoping to compete with the bigger firms and “be confident rather than give up at the first chance”.
- U.S. Treasury moves to halt ransomware payments. In the wake of the Colonial Pipeline attack and the tantalizing rewards offered to the hackers behind it, the White House has begun to stopper the tap of available cryptocurrency options for ransomware payments to Russian cybercriminals. In a statement shared exclusively with CNN, the administration shared that it has cut access to U.S. markets for Suex, a cryptocurrency exchange that US officials accused of doing business with hackers. U.S. President Biden will convene a 30-country meeting this month to try to ramp up global efforts to address the threat of ransomware to economic and national security. U.S. officials remain unconvinced Russia will assist in the prevention of cybercrime against U.S. companies. To date, attacks emanating from Russian sources continue to increase.
- Company that routes billions of text messages quietly says it was hacked. Syniverse facilitates the transfer of text messages around the world for over 200 mobile Internet service providers. As a major exchange hub for carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Vodafone, and China Mobile, the company handles all kinds of sensitive information belonging to millions of cellphone users worldwide. While the scale of the hacker activity is not fully known yet, in a report to the US Securities and Exchange Commission on September 27, Syniverse reported that “an unknown individual or organization gained unauthorized access to databases within its network on several occasions.” The affected? 235 mobile service providers, their billings and payments data, sensitive customer information, data on calls, and the content of SMS text messages.
- Bitcoin ATMs security flaws warning. In the U.S. ATMs offering Bitcoin are most popular in gas stations, smoke shops, and bars. The quick convenient way to pay has attracted criticism from Kraken security over how easy it is to take over crypto ATMs with a default QR code password. Kraken describes the flaw as serious and as if you’d bought a new computer and put in your secret password – but anyone could still use the machine’s basic factory settings to gain access. Kraken also notes there was no protection against a physical break-in, meaning attackers could plug in a keyboard or another device to conduct theft. The good news is General Bytes, the biggest provider of crypto ATMs, has updated its processes and hardware to secure the machines. As the issue is well-known, if you are using Bitcoin ATMs make sure you know what kind and if it’s been updated. Many still need securing.
Tip of the week
The epic Facebook outage of 2021 is just another example of why it’s important to have a website for your business. While Facebook pages are a fast and free way to get started, you don’t actually own your Facebook presence, and never will.
Fortunately, creating a website that engages people in a social media-like fashion is easy, inexpensive, and protects you against the next meltdown. We are strong advocates of WordPress, an ideal platform for creating socially engaging websites. All of your exciting photos, product updates, and business news can be published with the same level of ease as a Facebook post. It’s also easy to add e-commerce functions, photo galleries, maps, contact forms, and thanks to hundreds of expertly designed blocks, it’s actually much easier to get a custom feel on a WordPress page. With the right settings, WordPress can even automatically share all new content to your social media profiles.
By publishing all of your content on your website first, no matter what happens with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other social site, you are still in control of your company’s online home, and your customers will still be able to find you.