Thousands of websites and digital services around the world were unavailable on Thursday after cloud computing company Akamai experienced what it called a “service incident.”
Akamai, a Massachusetts-based company whose services work behind the scenes to keep large portions of the internet functioning, said on its website that it is “aware of an emerging issue with the Edge DNS service.”
DNS stands for Domain Names System, which, broadly speaking, is how Internet Protocol or IP addresses read by computers get translated into words that can be read by humans.
DNS services guard against attacks
Typically, a DNS service is what keeps websites up and running when they are under siege from malicious third parties trying to overwhelm them by sending a huge flood of traffic to them all at once.
Akamai’s DNS services guard against those attacks, known as DDOS or Distributed Denial Of Service attacks.
“They’re like a shield that steps in between you and the website,” Matt Hatfield, campaigns director with digital rights watchdog Open Media, said in an interview. “But when that service has problems, it means all the sites that use them as protection have problems.”
Affected websites were not loading and displayed various DNS-related service errors.
“We are aware of an emerging issue with the Edge DNS service,” Akamai said on its website. “We are actively investigating the issue.”
Akamai said the disruption was not caused by a cyberattack.
Some sites still down despite fix
A little after 1 p.m. ET, the company said on Twitter that it had fixed the problem.
“We have implemented a fix for this issue, and based on current observations, the service is resuming normal operations. We will continue to monitor to ensure that the impact has been fully mitigated.”
But reports suggest tens of thousands of company websites and apps continue to be disrupted, including airlines, banks, technology companies and retailers.
Pingdom, a service that monitors global internet traffic, reported that more than 34,000 sites were down for various reasons at one point. As of 1 p.m. ET, more than 18,000 were still offline, including almost 200 in Canada.
Barely a month ago, a similar DNS issue at web services company Fastly also wiped out thousands of websites and cost $2 billion in economic losses.
The website Downdetector, which monitors online reports of outages, reported a spike in complaints on Thursday about dozens of companies in Canada.
“Reports indicate there may be a widespread outage at Akamai, which may be impacting your service,” the site read.
Hatfield says the outage shows just how vulnerable the current internet is because it has moved from its decentralized origins to become massively consolidated behind the scenes.
“It’s a web but it’s not a decentralized web, it’s not thousands of points connecting — it’s a lot of points connecting to these essential services and then coming to the rest of us.”