Russia: Facebook Outage Proves Need for Internet Sovereignty

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Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday that Facebook’s worldwide service outage earlier that day “answers the question of whether we need our own social networks and internet platforms,” Reuters reported Tuesday.

“Maria Zakharova, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said during the near six-hour outage of Facebook services on Monday evening that this ‘answers the question of whether we need our own social networks and internet platforms,'” Reuters relayed on October 5, citing an October 4 report by the Russian state-owned news agency TASS.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova speaks to the media in Moscow on March 2018. (Uri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty Images)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova speaks to the media in Moscow in March 2018. (Uri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty Images)

The original TASS report cited a statement shared by Zakharova to her official Telegram channel on October 4. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman included in her statement a reference to a New York Times article describing how “Facebook employees [were] physically unable to get into the office to assess the scale of the problem, since their electronic passes do not work.”

The Times deleted the passage referenced by Zakharova from its article as of press time on October 6. The newspaper issued a correction in an updated version of the article, reading:

Correction: Oct. 4, 2021

An earlier version of this article misstated a Facebook team’s means of getting access to server computers at a data center in Santa Clara, Calif. The team did not have to cut through a cage using an industrial angle grinder.

The newspaper replaced the deleted passage about Facebook staffers being locked out of the company’s own offices with the following lines as of October 6:

Facebook eventually restored service after a team got access to its server computers at a data center in Santa Clara, Calif., three people with knowledge of the matter said. Then they were able to reset them.

Facebook, a U.S.-based multinational technology company, experienced a global outage of its services for approximately six consecutive hours on October 4. The outage affected other applications owned and operated by Facebook, including the photo-sharing app Instagram and the instant messenger app WhatsApp. Facebook said it went offline on Monday due to a defective “configuration change.”

OPSHOT - A lit sign is seen at the entrance to Facebook's corporate headquarters location in Menlo Park, California on March 21, 2018. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg vowed on March 21 to 'step up' to fix problems at the social media giant, as it fights a snowballing scandal over the hijacking of personal data from millions of its users. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

A lit sign is seen at the entrance to Facebook’s corporate headquarters location in Menlo Park, California, on March 21, 2018. (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

In a statement issued October 4, the social networking service wrote:

Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication. This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt.

“Technology outages are not uncommon, but to have so many apps go dark from the world’s largest social media company at the same time was highly unusual,” the Times observed on Wednesday. “Facebook’s last significant outage was in 2019, when a technical error affected its sites for 24 hours, in a reminder that a snafu can cripple even the most powerful internet companies.”

The American newspaper seemed to echo the sentiment expressed by Zakharova on October 4, which supported an ongoing campaign for internet sovereignty by Moscow.

The Kremlin has enacted legislation in recent years to prevent adversarial governments from cutting off Russia’s access to foreign infrastructure. Moscow says this theoretical attack remains a real threat given the “aggressive nature” of the U.S. government’s national cybersecurity strategy.

Russia passed a “sovereign internet” law in December 2019. The law will, in theory, help Moscow route Russia’s data and web traffic through state-controlled checkpoints, reduce the county’s reliance on foreign servers, and protect the national internet system from foreign attacks.

Russia temporarily disconnected itself from the global internet in tests conducted in June and July. The tests were deemed “successful” by a working group tasked with improving Russia’s internet security, the Russian news site RBC reported on July 21.

The June 15-July 15 trial “tested the capabilities of physically disconnecting the Russian section of the internet,” RBC quoted an unnamed source within Russia’s telecommunications industry as saying. The tests “aimed to determine whether ‘RuNet’ could work in the event of external distortions, blockages, and other threats.”

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