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Akamai experiences ‘service disruption’ tied to major website outages

Akamai's HQ in Kendall Square.
Akamai's HQ in Kendall Square.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Major websites around the world went offline for about an hour on Thursday, after a breakdown in a key online service provided by Cambridge-based networking company Akamai Technologies.

Downdetector, a website that tracks problems on other sites, reported that US users were having difficulty accessing Fidelity Investments, Amazon, Delta, DraftKings, Costco, and others. (The Boston Globe’s website was also affected.) The problems extended overseas as well, with reports of disruptions at Japanese companies such as NTT and SoftBank, and European firms like HSBC Bank and British Airways.

The problems apparently stemmed from a malfunction in Akamai’s Domain Name System (DNS) servers. This is a key directory for online traffic. When a user types, say, BostonGlobe.com in her browser, the request first goes to a DNS server which directs the request to the right website. If DNS goes down, Internet users see error messages on their screens because their requests for data can’t get through.

In 2016, criminal hackers successfully attacked the DNS servers of Dyn, a New Hampshire company which has since been acquired by software giant Oracle. The attack lasted for hours and prevented access to a number of major sites, including Netflix, Twitter, and Spotify.

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But Akamai said on Thursday that the latest outage was caused by the company’s own technical problems, not a malicious attack.

“At 15:46 UTC today (11:46 a.m. Boston time), a software configuration update triggered a bug in the DNS system, the system that directs browsers to websites,” Akamai said in an e-mailed statement. “This caused a disruption impacting availability of some customer websites. The disruption lasted up to an hour. Upon rolling back the software configuration update, the services resumed normal operations.”

Akamai said it would review its software update procedures to prevent a repeat of the problem.

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It’s the second time in just over a month that a software glitch at Akamai has had global consequences. In June, several US airlines, as well as banks in Australia and Hong Kong, were knocked offline after the malfunction of an Akamai system designed to protect customers from cyberattacks. The brief outage garnered little attention in the US because it happened at about midnight Eastern time. But it caused serious problems in Asia, where it was mid-afternoon.

An Akamai competitor called Fastly had a similar outage in early June. A bug in a software update took down many of Fastly’s customers for about an hour. Victims included many of the world’s best-known websites, such as Amazon, Reddit, Spotify, Twitch, the BBC, CNN, and the New York Times.

Anissa Gardizy of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.