This Is Why Half the Internet Shut Down Last Night

By Alyse Stanley on at

Scores of websites and services went down Friday afternoon due to problems with Cloudflare’s DNS service, sparking rampant speculation about the cause. After all, a global DDOS attack would totally fit the real-life apocalypse movie that 2020 is increasingly turning into.

The outage, which started shortly after 10 p.m. BST, brought down popular sites and services like Discord, Politico, Feedly and League of Legends for roughly half an hour on Friday. Once connections were restored, Cloudflare issued an incident report stating that the issue “was not as a result of an attack” and that it “has been identified and a fix is being implemented”.

Turns out the real explanation’s nothing so nefarious. Evidently, half the Internet briefly went dark because of a crappy router in Atlanta, Georgia.

“It appears that a router in Atlanta had an error that caused bad routes across our backbone. That resulted in misrouted traffic to PoPs that connect to our backbone,” Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince tweeted Friday. “We isolated the Atlanta router and shut down our backbone, routing traffic across transit providers instead. There was some congestion that caused slow performance on some links as the logging caught up. Everything is restored now and we’re looking into the root cause.”

According to the incident report, this issue with Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 DNS service impacted its data centres internationally, from Frankfurt to Paris and Schiphol, as well as several in major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta and San Jose. Reports on Downdetector showed the outages appeared to be concentrated in the U.S. and northern Europe.

A DNS, or Domain Name System, serves as the connective tissue between the domain name you use to locate a website (like Gizmodo.co.uk) and its corresponding IP address, which determines the site’s specific location on the web. The service essentially acts as a digital phonebook for the Internet, and there’s no getting to where you want to go online without it – regardless of whether a site’s own servers are working or not. Some Internet providers rely on their own DNS service, but alternatives from the likes of Google and Cloudflare, which launched its version in 2018, are more commonly used.

It’s little wonder that most people immediately thought malicious hackers might have been the cause given this week’s Twitter hack for the history books. That kind of sprawling breach would have anyone on edge. And while a glitch in Cloudflare’s system may not be as exciting an explanation, at least we got a few good memes out of the deal.

Featured graphic: Downdetector