Internet outages: Experts reveal why Facebook and Instagram keep crashing

Internet outages: Experts reveal why Facebook and Instagram keep crashing
Internet outages: Experts reveal why Facebook and Instagram keep crashing

Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook and Instagram crashed for the second time in a month last night, while a string of banks, phone networks and fellow tech giants have also experienced major outages recently.

Even Britain's biggest supermarket Tesco was brought to its knees by a hack of its website and app last month, leaving thousands of customers unable to order groceries for 48 hours and costing the retailer an estimated £40m in lost revenue.  

But what is behind all these website crashes and outages? Is it just a coincidence, a fundamental problem with back-end systems or is there something more sinister going on?

MailOnline has spoken to a number of cyber security and internet experts to find out the main reasons for the outages, beginning with the issues experienced by Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. 

Technical difficulties: Facebook and Instagram crashed for the second time in a month last night, while a string of banks and other companies have also experienced outages recently

Technical difficulties: Facebook and Instagram crashed for the second time in a month last night, while a string of banks and other companies have also experienced outages recently

Matthew Hodgson, co-founder and CEO of Element and technical co-founder of Matrix, said Meta's centralised back-end system was a key problem.

It means there is a single point of failure which can affect Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, rather than just one of the platforms. 

'The spate of recent outages is an inevitable side-effect of massive centralisation, where companies like Facebook have ended up on the critical path of providing infrastructure for billions of people,' Mr Hodgson told MailOnline.

'Consumers end up unwittingly obliged to put all their eggs in one basket, and when inevitably some failure mode occurs for that company or its infrastructure (be it accidental or malicious) the end result is catastrophic.'

Internet scientist Professor Bill Buchanan also believes the internet has become too centralised. 

He's called for systems to have multiple nodes so that a single failure doesn't stop a service from working.

Hodgson agreed.

'The solution is to decentralise apps like Facebook and WhatsApp, just as the web and email and internet itself has no central points of control or failure — so there's simply no single company or infrastructure which can have an outage which impacts the whole system,' he said. 

Jake Moore, a spokesman for internet security and antivirus company ESET, told MailOnline: 'Centralising their data has been one of the biggest issues for Meta combining all three giants — Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. 

'With this comes problems which are often not located until crunch time which can be too late. 

'These outages are often the outcome and companies using these platforms for business use must have other tools in place should they rely on these services such as another messaging tool. 

'We are likely to see more outages in the coming months as more people use these services.'

When an outage happens, people often speculate that the disruption is the result of some sort of cyber-attack, many of the experts said.

But they added that more often than not it's down to human error, as was the case last month when Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger went down for seven hours.

The was ultimately blamed on a faulty update that disconnected Meta's servers from the internet and brought down all its platforms.

Back in June, a massive internet blackout which brought down hundreds of websites across the world was also blamed on a single unnamed IT customer

It left millions of people unable to access a host of major sites including Amazon, Spotify and PayPal, as well as the BBC, UK government and the White House.

The outage was caused by a software bug triggered when a customer for Fastly — the US cloud-computing company responsible for the problems — changed their settings, the firm said. 

Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp

Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp

WHAT ARE THE MAIN THEORIES FOR WHY THE INTERNET KEEPS BREAKING? 

Human error

People often assume any kind of web disruption is linked to hacking, but actually more mundane reasons such as human error tend to be the more likely cause, experts say.

IT employees for companies, tech giants and even supermarkets make mistakes, which one cyber security expert blamed on them being 'under pressure' and having to take shortcuts.

Meta's outage on October 4 was ultimately blamed on user error, when a faulty update disconnected its servers from the internet.

Hacking

There have been increases in the sophistication of hacking, experts say, with numerous Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks seen recently, including on Microsoft, Google and other massive companies.

DDoS attacks work by flooding a victim's system with 'internet traffic' in an attempt to overload it and force it offline.

Meanwhile, ransomware — a form of cyberattack which locks files and data on a user's computer and demands payment in order for them to be released back to the owner — is also on the rise.

The head of Britain's cybersecurity agency said it was 'the most immediate danger' of all

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