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How A Small ISP in Pennsylvania Tanked a Big Chunk of the Web on Monday

Outages may be a fact of life on the internet, but the past few days have been especially rough for some of us. Last Tuesday, Google Calendar went down for hours. Later in the week, Netflix, Hulu, and Xbox Live had problems. (Hulu on the night of The Handmaid’s Tale, no less!) And on Monday morning, users in the Northeast United States were hit by a widespread web outage that affected Verizon users and thousands of websites serviced by Cloudflare, a little-known backbone of the internet that provides security and performance services to 16 million websites. Even Downdetecter, a website that tracks whether other websites are up and running, went down briefly because of the issue.

The outage was an abrupt reminder that the internet is a fragile place where one little error—in this case, by a small company in Pennsylvania—can cause swaths of the web to break with little warning. In Monday’s case, it was because the internet’s map got broken.