CLEVELAND — Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp were back online Monday night after an hours-long outage earlier in the day.
Dr. John Nicholas, a professor of Computer Information Systems and the co-founder of the cybersecurity degree track at the University of Akron, spoke to News 5 Monday afternoon, shortly before Facebook and the other services were restored.
“What everybody in the security world is saying right now is that somehow the DNS record, which is the domain name system, was erased at Facebook or from Facebook,” Nicholas said. “What this really does is when you type in Facebook.com, it associates that name with the address of the computer that actually hosts Facebook. And so if you lose that mapping, it doesn't matter how many times you can type in Facebook.com. The internet doesn't know how to find it.”
However, he said the issue appears to be “even worse than that because of the Border Gateway Protocol, BGP.
“That's how the internet tells each other who's responsible for what content, and so apparently those records have been lost, too,” Nicholas said. “One of the rumors that's out there is that some of their internal networking mappings got taken down, which is what killed this. And if that is the case, it's going to take quite a while for them to rebuild all those BGP connections. The DNS part actually shouldn't take too long to rebuild, but the BGP part will. So if it is true that they have lost their network connectivity internally to the outside world, it could be a very, very long time before Facebook is back up.”
The outage, which ended Monday evening, caused problems for people who connect with fans and, in some cases, make money through the sites.
Doug Veney is a Northeast Ohio content creator who live-streams his gaming sessions under the handle “GoodGameBro” on YouTube and on Facebook Gaming, where he has more than 300,000 followers.
“On Facebook Gaming, I stream six, seven days a week, usually late at night, once my kids are in bed,” Veney said. “I stream games like Warzone or Fortnite, Madden, different sports games, even games like Halo that come out as well, and then my YouTube is essentially all sports titles each year.”
He said Facebook outages usually only last an hour or so, but this one was more significant.
“As a creator, [you’re] used to having different touchpoints with your audience and being able to reach to them in Facebook groups or little posts or clips that I might do, or streams or whatever it might essentially be,” Veney said. “So that little piece of your brain that’s like, ‘Oh, I should update people here,’ you have to constantly remind yourself like, ‘Oh, I can’t do that.’ And it's also scary because you've amassed a large audience and you want to be able to reach them, and there's that thought in your mind of like, ‘What if it doesn't come back, like what essentially happens at that point?’ So it definitely is scary at the same time.”
Streaming is also a source of income for Veney, one he said has “done wonders” for his family.
“So that obviously is like a scary thing too. You don't want to think about it being super long-term, but at the same time, you have to have sort of backup plans,” Veney said. “I’m fortunate enough to have a YouTube following as well, which definitely helps. But Facebook is definitely the primary for me, and so my brain has been spinning for the past however many hours. It's been like, ‘OK, what do I do? This is down for an extended period of time.’”
He wondered how his audience and the Facebook algorithm would react after the prolonged outage—whether people would be afraid to go back to Facebook, whether they’d receive alerts about his streams or be able to find him through their News Feeds.
“If that's not functioning, if my stream’s not going there, does my viewership dip? That impacts obviously a lot of things from the monetary standpoint as well,” Veney said.
Veney said he was “cautiously optimistic” going forward and acknowledged that any social media platform can go down.
“In the back of your mind, it's always sort of like, ‘What if it goes down? What if it goes down?’” Veney said. “And it makes you want to diversify your content and make sure that you're not going 85, 90 percent in the one place, that maybe you're spreading your content out a little bit.”
Asked what might have caused this issue, Dr. Nicholas said a lot of people might assume it’s related to the exposé that aired Sunday on the CBS News program “60 Minutes.”
“If it was a mistake, it would have had to have been by somebody who had access to this stuff and should know better,” Nicholas said. “Not to say that doesn't happen. So it could have been an internal mistake. More than likely, it was retaliation by some group, either a cyber-terrorist group or some nation-state or something like that, knowing that Facebook is is under scrutiny right now and it would be a good time to attack them. So my speculation is its opportunist by some group who wanted to hurt Facebook.”
Nicholas cited tweets that said Facebook employees couldn’t get into the physical building because their swipe badges were not working.
“If they can't even get into the building, that's going to delay things a while, so it really depends on what sort of backups they have in place,” Nicholas said. “If they have things backed up where they can readily restore it, it'll come back quickly. If somebody got in deep enough to destroy those backups, and those backups are lost, they’re going to have to start from square one.”
In addition to being a professor, Nicholas is also a part-time musician with an Akron band called The Twanglers. The band uses Facebook to communicate with fans and to post information about concerts. He’s also written two Cleveland Browns songs that he streams on Facebook every Sunday.
“The only way I have to get that out, remind people to stream it is Facebook and social media. So Facebook being down, you know, not that I make a lot of money from streams, but it certainly is hindering my ability to just get my songs out for fun,” Nicholas said. “But those folks who are making a living with music and acting and things like that, how they promote these things through social media are really going to be hurt by this.”
Nicholas said the public can take a message away from the outages.
“We hear about cyber threats all the time, but because we can't see them, we don't get that fear generated like we would if we saw a crowd of people running at us or something, right?” Nicholas said. “I think the message here is that this is real, that the minute that we all plugged into the internet and we were all interconnected, that makes us all vulnerable to any of these kinds of things.”
He urged people to learn cybersecurity best practices and said people shouldn’t panic because “these attacks are going to happen. They’re going to become more and more frequent.” Instead, he said, people should be vigilant.
“We can't eliminate this threat, but we can certainly mitigate the threat. We can make ourselves less vulnerable to attack by simply staying on top of things, and that might be something as simple as making sure you're watching your credit cards and your bank account to make sure nobody's in there using it,” Nicholas said.