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The Day the Web Went Down in Sweden

The Day the Web Went Down in Sweden

Imagine firing up your trusty web browser and finding all your favorite web sites completely inaccessible. That’s exactly what occurred to Swedish web browsing patrons. On October 12, 2009 the country of Sweden seemed to have been completely wiped off the internet world map. A glitch turned into nearly a million Swedish web sites being inaccessible to the rest of the world.

What happened

For the top level domain .se, a maintenance malfunction caused all DNS look-ups for that domain suffix to become unreachable. This affected not only all web sites under the .se domain name but all e-mails were affected as well.

As is the norm for most internet service providers and web hosts, DNS look-ups are cached. Because of this practice, the inaccessible web sites were still unavailable even after the error had been found and repaired. It wasn’t until late that Monday evening that ISPs and web hosting companies were able to flush the DNS caches enabling DNS look-ups to function properly once again.

The official statement from Sweden’s IIF (Internet Infrastructure Foundation) was that the error was caused by an erroneous software update that had gone completely undetected. The IFF went on further to state that the error was found and repaired within an hour by producing and distributing a new DNS data file throughout the system. The foundation did realize that many name servers would not update right away and that this would affect the system until DNS cache flushing was implemented.

As of October 15, 2009 there still remained a large number of smaller internet service providers that hadn’t yet fixed this problem. What’s probably even more frustrating for a smaller section of Swedish domain customers is that there may have been several ISPs there weren’t even aware of a problem in the first place.

What was the exact culprit

This entire fiasco was caused by a simple missing dot. A simple typo placed in a script that is responsible for updating the .se domain resulted in the system not understanding that the suffix was the top level domain. According to Pingdom, a Swedish company responsible for monitoring web site’s up-time, this sort of error is very unusual.

While some .se domains may have only been affected for a short period of time, the .se zone has a 24 hour time call-out where information is cached by DNS servers. This means a good number of Swedish domains could have been inaccessible for as much as a day.

The IFF currently is conducting an internal investigation into exactly what occurred, what was the exact cause of the erroneous update and what measures can be put into place to ensure this does not happen again.

At last check, it appears as though all .se domains are back up and operating normally at this time. Just imagine the pandemonium and mayhem that would proceed a system-wide outage of .com domains. One wonders if the potential for the exact same sort of typo error could occur within the domain name most commonly found in the US.

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