Akamai outage is latest warning about Internet dependency
Dangerous things, software updates. Push the wrong button and they can be as devastating as any Chinese cyberattack, plunging parts of the Internet into darkness. The lights temporarily went out for some of the world’s most popular websites last month when a customer of Fastly, a content delivery network (CDN), stumbled over a nasty bug in some code. This month’s culprit is Akamai, another CDN whose keyboard-tapping engineers ran into a similarly pestilent bug and brought down websites including Barclays, HSBC, British Airways and Airbnb, as reported by Sky News.
Brief as the outages were – both were fixed within an hour – they are a stomach-churning reminder of our growing dependence on Internet technology provided by a relatively small number of companies. Allowing critical systems to ride together in the same bug-infested vehicle seems as risky as cramming world leaders into a single sputtering Tupolev jet (although some might welcome the latter).
Apologists for Akamai and Fastly will point out that bugs were dealt with quickly, minimizing the economic impact. But there is no guarantee that problems will always be so easy to remedy, especially if they arise externally. Akamai acknowledges in its own recent quarterly filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that: “Cybersecurity breaches and attacks on us … could lead to significant costs and disruptions that would harm our business, financial results and reputation.”
It neglects to mention the ramifications for its customers, and any cyber villain will have noted this week’s outage and the precise ripple effect that an attack on Akamai would trigger. Hackers will regard the CDN as a point where they can inflict maximum damage, much as a martial artist looks for body parts where a strike would be disabling.
The Internet Society, a US not-for-profit group, drew attention to the risks of overreliance on a few Internet companies in a 2019 report called “Consolidation in the Internet economy.”
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