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Thursday, 1 October 2009

Facebook and BT and Virgin

For most of yesterday, UK users of Facebook were inundating the Net with howls of despair as the site was almost impossible to log into or use as it went into a unresolvable redirect loop.

Rumour has it that those on Virgin's network were unaffected and that for some reason, Facebook had decided it would block anyone attempting to access the site from BT's network. Whilst this may have been an 'intern cock-up', or the problem actually may have been caused by a rather more fundamental server config issue, it does rather beg the question about (reverse) net neutrality and resilience.

There has been much discussion about ISPs blocking certain sites in favour of their revenue generating partners, and it is quite right that there should be very lengthy discussions about this type of action. However, in this instance, and who knows for what reason, it appears that a site 'decided' to block an ISP! Well, more an incumbent actually, but of course because the majority of telcos are just reselling BTW products, that is a fairly hefty lump of Britain who couldn't access FB.

Now, whilst many are anti-Facebook, there are an extraordinary number of companies who are using FB as an integral part of their online marketing strategy. Should a company take a unilateral decision to block an ISP, those companies who are relying on that site for income generation can wave goodbye to revenue until such time as the problem is resolved.

It does rather make you wonder about DOS attacks on specific servers that could leave a country such as the UK without access to lots of different websites if you just blocked the incumbent's access to those servers.......

All eggs in one basket seems a dangerous manoeuvre if it affects commerce, as well as citizens looking for their daily fix of social networking. In order to operate in the next gen world, we in this country are going to need a redundant and resilient network if we are to avoid such potential disasters.

In other news, much of Virgin Media's network was down in London and the south yesterday following a power hiccup.


Pauline Rigby said...

Logged into eBay the other day to find that not much had changed in the 3 years since I last spent time on there. My powerseller logo was on display, although I haven't qualified for years. When I tried to amend an item for sale I got sent around in an endless log-in cycle. Good old, same old.

I doubt that Facebook's outage was a net neutrality violation, just some bad coding that happened to be more incompatible with one SP's network than another. I guess Facebook has typically been more robust than other websites, and lulled you all into having high expectations of its stability.

Cybersavvy UK said...

LOL. Pauline, FB has been notably appalling for cock-ups!! In fact, if you look at FB itself you will find groups dedicated to trying to force FB to get a handle on its IT issues. Particularly considering how many millions of regular users there are on it globally.

As to the net neutrality, I was trying to point out this is actually sort of the opposite of the common neutrality debate. Yes, I'm sure it was just a coding issue when configging a bunch of servers (especially as the work around involved using the test servers), but I was trying to make the point that it wouldn't actually be too difficult to run a malicious attack that did cut off a large proportion of the population of a country by targeting those on the incumbent's network.

In a country such as the UK where there is little choice which network is being used, because pretty much every ISP except Virgin Media is using BT Wholesale's network, it wouldn't actually be that difficult to attack vulnerable sites and prohibit access to them from that network.

Luckily, however, FB is one of the few sites where a) it wouldn't matter very much and b) there are known vulnerabilities in its IT set up which other sites thankfully have resolved.