Why Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram went down

By: News Desk
Published: 09:11 AM, 5 Oct, 2021
Why Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram went down
Caption: Representational image.
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It was a global failure as users across the world couldn’t access Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram for hours. 

As hyperbolic as it may sound but parts of the digital world came to an absolute standstill for many hours as the world’s biggest social media platforms went down. It was a global failure as users across the world couldn’t access Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram for hours. All three platforms combined have billions of users logging in every day. So what was the reason behind the global outage? Here’s an explainer on the potential root cause of it:

What led to Facebook platforms ‘crashing’

Cybercrime specialists and cybersecurity researchers have attempted to break down the cause. At the heart of it, as per Bryan Krebs, a cybercrime reporter, it was a BGP or Border Gateway Protocol issue.

What is Border Gateway Protocol (BGP)?

Simply put, it is the protocol that runs the internet or makes it work. Since the internet is a network of networks, BGP is the mechanism that bounds it together. When the BGP doesn’t work, internet routers can’t really figure out what to do and that leads to the internet not working.

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The routers — big ones — keep up on updating other possible routes that are used to deliver network packets to the last possible source. In this case, Facebook platforms were the last point of destination and BGP problem meant Facebook was unable to tell other networks know that it was on the internet.

How does Border Gateway Protocol work?

To borrow an analogy from The Verge, the BGP is like an entity that is responsible for creating and more importantly updating maps that lead you to sites like Google, Facebook or YouTube. So if someone is responsible for making and updating the map, and they make a mistake, then the traffic — or users — will not end up reaching that place.

How did a BGP issue affect Facebook?

According to researchers at Cloudflare, “a BGP update message informs a router of any changes you’ve made to a prefix advertisement or entirely withdraws the prefix.” There were a lot of routing changes from Facebook last night and then routes were withdrawn, Facebook’s DNS servers went offline. DNS is Domain Name Server and if you are wondering what that is then here’s what it means.

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As Cloudflare explains, “Domain Name System (DNS) is the phonebook of the Internet.” People access information online through domain names — facebook.com. Internet users browse IP or Internal Protocol addresses and what DNS does is that it translates domain names to IP addresses to browsers can load internet resources.

What does Facebook have to say about the outage?

In an official blog post, Facebook said that "Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centres caused issues that interrupted this communication. This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centres communicate, bringing our Services to a halt.”

A faulty configuration change: That’s what took Facebook down

Facebook made it clear that it wasn’t a hack or cyberattack. “We want to make clear at this time we believe the root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change. We also have no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of this downtime,” the social media giant said in a blog post.

Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp are back now and the company is “sorry for disruption”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Facebook post said that the platforms are slowly coming back. And Zuckerberg threw in an apology as well. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger are coming back online now. Sorry for the disruption today -- I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about," he said.