All you need to know about the Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram outage

If you’re a frequent social media user, chances are you noticed that some of the most popular platforms were unavailable for several hours earlier this week. Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram all stopped working and millions of people around the world were unable to use them.

There have been many theories circulating online about what caused the outage, but here’s what Facebook said in a statement: “Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication. This disruption […] had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt.”

The company also claimed that the outage impacted many of their internal tools and systems, leaving employees unable to access day-to-day operations and even physically enter the business’ headquarters.

Why wasn’t I able to access Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram?

Big organisations like Facebook usually have their own private internet network, also known as autonomous systems. The back-end system that allows computers to connect with that private network is accessed via a Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) that works like a postal service for the internet.

So, when you want to visit Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp, BGP looks at all of the available paths that data could travel through and picks the best route. The app’s request for data travels from your device to the nearest data center facility, which then communicates over Facebook’s backbone network to a larger data center, where the information is processed and sent back over the network to your smartphone/ tablet/ PC. Our devices are able to access the data in these data centers because routers help them send requests for information, which they find through BGP. The outage on 4th October was as a result of Facebook not being able to provide the information its autonomous system needs to function.

In a blog post published on the day after the outage, Facebook explained that a command was issued to assess the availability of its network, which unintentionally took down all connections and disconnected the company’s data centers globally. And while the company’s systems are designed to audit commands to prevent mistakes like this one, the audit tool had encountered a bug and failed to stop the command.

Was my personal data compromised as a result of the issue?

Within its official statement, Facebook stressed that the outage wasn’t caused by malicious activity, but it happened because of a fault configuration change on their end. There is no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of the downtime.

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