Internet Outage Affecting Major Websites Reveals Fragile Nature of World Wide Web

Dozens of websites went offline Tuesday morning after an outage at cloud service company Fastly, an indication of the problem with having a handful of companies running the internet, the Associated Press reported.

The websites of The New York Times, CNN, Twitch, Reddit and The Guardian, as well as some Amazon sites and the U.K. government's home page, were down and could not be accessed.

About an hour after the problems occurred, Fastly said, "The issue has been identified and a fix has been applied. Customers may experience increased origin load as global services return."

The company said it determined what triggered the disruptions was a service configuration, meaning the problems appeared to be caused internally.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Twitch App Icon on Tablet
Twitch's website was among the dozens of sites that went down Tuesday morning. Martin Bureau/Getty Images

In Asia, cities like Hong Kong and Singapore were also affected, with users unable to access the CNN website. In China, where most foreign media websites are blocked, there was little discussion on the outage on social media platforms such as Weibo.

San Francisco-based Fastly acknowledged a problem just before 6 a.m. Eastern. It said in repeated updates on its website that it was "continuing to investigate the issue."

Still, all major futures markets in the U.S. dipped sharply minutes after the outage hit almost exactly a month after a cyberattack that caused the operator of the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S to halt its operations.

Internet traffic measurement by Kentik shows that Fastly began to recover from the outage roughly an hour after it struck at mid-morning European time—and before most Americans were awake.

"Looks like it is slowly coming back," said Doug Madory, an internet infrastructure expert at Kentik. He said that "it is serious because Fastly is one of the world's biggest CDNs and this was a global outage."

Fastly is a content-delivery network. It provides vital but behind-the-scenes cloud computing "edge servers" to many of the web's popular sites. These servers store, or "cache," content such as images and video in places around the world so they are closer to users, allowing them to fetch it more quickly and smoothly instead of having to access the site's original server. Fastly says its services mean that a European user going to an American website can get the content from 200 to 500 milliseconds faster.

The impact of Fastly's trouble highlights the relative fragility of the internet's current architecture given its heavy reliance on Big Tech companies—such as Amazon's AWS cloud services—as opposed to a more decentralized model.

"Even the biggest and most sophisticated companies experience outages. But they can also recover fairly quickly," said Madory.

When the outage hit, some visitors trying to access CNN.com got a message that said: "Fastly error: unknown domain: cnn.com." Attempts to access the Financial Times website turned up a similar message while visits to the New York Times and U.K. government's gov.uk site returned an "Error 503 Service Unavailable" message, along with the line "Varnish cache server," which is a technology that Fastly is built on.

Down Detector, which tracks internet outages, posted reports on dozens of sites going down and said "there may be a widespread outage at Fastly."

The New York Times Building
Numerous websites were unavailable on Tuesday because of a widespread outage at cloud service company Fastly. Dozens of high-traffic websites, including those for The New York Times, CNN, Twitch and the U.K. government's home page, could not be reached. Mark Lennihan/Associated Press