Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp all went down on Monday, adding to Facebook’s woes as it deals with Senate hearings on child safety, a high-profile whistleblower, and ongoing antitrust litigation.
The United States must invest more in internet infrastructure and support policies that contribute to a more robust global internet.
While there is no evidence that the Facebook outage was the result of a malicious cyberattack, the widespread internet outage demonstrates the fragility of our internet ecosystem. And it demonstrates yet again why the United States must invest more in internet infrastructure and support policies that contribute to a stronger global internet in the future.
The good news is that, unlike recent high-profile incidents such as the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline in May, the outage on Monday morning was most likely not caused by a cyberattack. Colonial Pipeline paid hackers a $5 million ransom. Just last month, a bereaved mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against an Alabama hospital, Springfield Medical Center, in what some have called the first credible claim that a person’s death was caused by hackers.
It is important to note, however, that companies do not always release all of the details of a cyberattack while an investigation is underway. Whether the Facebook shutdown was the result of an error or malice, it is troubling that the temporary shutdown of a single company was able to affect so much of the internet.
Unlike their other ongoing issues with regulators and consumer trust, Facebook will most likely be able to resolve the issue in a matter of hours. Colonial Pipeline was also able to resolve its issue, but at a cost. No system can be completely secure, but fortunately, even the most severe cyberattacks can usually be resolved. However, as we rely more on connected technologies, such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things, our cybersecurity risks increase.
The Facebook outage and the Colonial Pipeline hack demonstrate the importance of cybersecurity for individuals, businesses, and national and global security. The internet is a fragile ecosystem supported by a global network of undersea cables and distributed servers. It’s easy to forget that the internet is more than just a concept, that physical infrastructure exists and that it matters.
The internet, like many large complex systems, eludes our grasp at times. Policymakers rarely discuss internet infrastructure, preferring to score points with constituents by extolling the dangers of Big Tech, Section 230, internet piracy, social media networks for children, and other inflammatory topics. Internet infrastructure, on the other hand, sounds far less exciting — which is precisely why we need to invest more in it.
Cybersecurity is an essential component of national security, and internet infrastructure is critical infrastructure. We must invest in internet infrastructure, including expanding broadband and fiber access to all Americans. The pandemic’s online demands demonstrated the importance of internet access, and it is shameful that so many communities in America still lack it. Internet access is a human right, and investing in internet infrastructure can assist us in ensuring that right for all.
Furthermore, we must increase our investments in cybersecurity and technology. We need more cybersecurity professionals in government, as well as more cybersecurity students and researchers. This also entails investing in education for the next generation of cybersecurity practitioners, as well as technologists and entrepreneurs who can help the United States maintain its leadership in internet infrastructure.
We also require policies that help the technology industry. The internet is a physical network, and who controls those physical servers and cables matters. For example, the United States is already lagging behind China in the 5G race, in part because we haven’t subsidized or supported domestic 5G companies in the same way that China has. Internet infrastructure is a matter of national and global security as well as economic concern.
Finally, even if we develop the world’s strongest internet industry and the world’s strongest telecommunications industry, we will still require alternatives. Due to a single company’s temporary outage, millions of people are unable to access Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp, three major platforms for communication, commerce, and more. This lends credence to arguments in favor of regulatory measures to encourage more competition in the internet space. No internet company should grow to be too large to fail.