Internet and Network Outages: What to Expect

Internet and network services are integral to our daily lives, powering everything from global business operations to personal communications. We rely on this connectivity to shop, learn, work, and interact, making any disruption more than just an inconvenience.

Network outages, however, are an unpredictable reality that can impact both individuals and organizations in various significant ways. In this article, let's explore the causes, consequences, and coping strategies for when our digital lifelines momentarily go dark.

Understanding Internet and Network Outages

Types of Outages

When it comes to internet and network outages, there are different types to be aware of:

  • Complete Blackout: All network services fail, leaving users completely offline. For instance, a major outage affected Rogers Communications in July 2022, where a routing issue knocked out internet services across Canada for nearly 24 hours​.
  • Partial Service Disruption: Only certain services or regions are impacted. An example is the AWS outage in July 2022, which selectively affected applications like Webex and Okta due to a power failure in one of its zones​.
  • Scheduled Maintenance: Providers typically announce these in advance to minimize disruption. They inform customers of planned improvements that will temporarily affect services​. 
  • Unexpected Failures: These occur without warning, often due to unforeseen issues like equipment malfunctions or cyberattacks. The sudden outage of WhatsApp in October 2022, primarily caused by application service failures, is a recent example of such an unexpected disruption​.

Common Causes of Outages

  1. Natural Disasters: Disasters like earthquakes and floods can wreak havoc on physical infrastructure such as underground cables and data centers, leading to widespread outages. For example, hurricanes have been known to knock out connectivity by damaging the physical components that internet networks rely on.
  2. Cyberattacks: These deliberate assaults target vulnerabilities in network security. For instance, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks overwhelm servers with excessive traffic, causing services to go offline. Notorious cyberattacks have led to significant disruptions, as seen with the Mirai botnet attack that took down major websites by targeting insecure IoT devices.
  3. Technical Failures: Failures can occur in hardware like routers or servers or within the network software itself. Hardware may fail due to aging or defects, while software issues often stem from bugs or incompatible updates. A notable example is the AWS outage where a software bug led to a breakdown, affecting numerous online services​.
  4. Human Error: Misconfiguration of network settings or accidental damages during construction work often results in outages. An example is a misconfigured network route that causes data to be sent incorrectly across the internet, disrupting services for large swathes of users.

The Ripple Effect of Outages

Internet and network outages don't just disrupt our online activities; they can have far-reaching consequences that impact various aspects of our lives.

Economic Repercussions

  • Business Losses: When businesses rely on the internet for operations, outages can lead to significant financial losses. For example, Amazon's 2013 outage cost the company an estimated $66,240 per minute in lost sales.
  • Impact on Stock Markets: Outages can cause panic among investors, leading to fluctuations in stock prices. In 2019, a trading outage at Robinhood caused frustration among users and led to a drop in the company's stock value.
  • Cost to Economies: The overall cost of internet outages to global economies is staggering, with estimates reaching billions of dollars annually. For example, a study by the Brookings Institution found that internet disruptions in India cost the country's economy $968 million in 2019.

Social Consequences

  • Communication Breakdown: Outages disrupt communication channels, hindering both personal and professional interactions. On April 3, 2024, users worldwide experienced difficulties accessing Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram.
  • Impact on Emergency Services: Outages can hinder the ability of emergency services to respond to crises effectively. For instance, during the 2018 CenturyLink outage, 911 services were disrupted in several states, potentially putting lives at risk.
  • Disruption of Daily Life: From remote work to online schooling, outages disrupt the routines of millions of people worldwide. The 2021 Slack outage left users unable to access the platform for several hours, disrupting collaboration and productivity for businesses and teams.

Security Vulnerabilities

  • Cybercriminal Opportunities: During outages, cybercriminals may exploit vulnerabilities to launch attacks. The SolarWinds outage in 2020 led to data breaches and hackers infiltrating both government and corporate networks.
  • Data Breaches: Outages can create opportunities for data breaches, exposing sensitive information to unauthorized access. For example, the 2017 Equifax outage resulted in the exposure of personal data belonging to millions of individuals, leading to widespread concern about cybersecurity.
  • Increased Phishing Attempts: During outages, users may be more susceptible to phishing attempts and other online scams. The 2021 Microsoft Exchange outage led to an increase in phishing emails targeting vulnerable systems, highlighting the need for heightened security measures during downtime.

Preparing for Outages

Proactive Measures

When we think about network resilience, it's all about preparing for the "when," not "if," an outage will happen. Any downtime can have significant implications, whether it's a loss of revenue or a dip in productivity. We can take proactive steps to minimize the impact of outages and ensure business continuity.

Redundancy and Failover Systems

  • Multi-CDN Strategies: Utilize multiple Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to distribute traffic evenly and ensure no single point of failure can take your service offline.
  • Redundant DNS Providers: Employing multiple DNS providers can prevent a total DNS failure, which was a critical lesson from the 2016 Dyn outage, where a single provider's compromise led to major disruptions.
  • Multi-Cloud Environments: Spread your resources across multiple cloud services to mitigate the risk of a single provider outage affecting your entire operation.
  • Automated Failover Mechanisms: Implement systems that automatically reroute traffic to operational servers during an outage, minimizing downtime and user impact.

Regular System Maintenance and Software Updates

Regular updates and maintenance are crucial for security and efficiency. For example, Amazon Web Services' use of redundant AZ architecture ensures that their systems remain operational even when one zone is experiencing issues, thus preventing widespread outages. 

  • Less downtime, reducing support costs
  • Fewer breakdowns mean smoother operations
  • Increased security against cyber threats
  • Faster performance
  • Early detection of issues prevents major disruptions
  • Proper software updates
  • Good hardware condition
  • Enhanced software security
  • Reduced vulnerability to hackers
  • Cost-effective measures
  • Devices become vulnerable
  • Prone to cyber-attacks, viruses, malware, etc.
  • More frequent system breakdowns, disrupting work
  • Longer downtime
  • Sluggish performance
  • Higher costs over time
  • Outdated equipment

Cybersecurity Measures

  • Firewalls and Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS): Use these to monitor and control incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predetermined security rules.
  • Encryption: Protect data in transit and at rest from unauthorized access and theft.
  • Regular Security Audits: Conduct audits to identify and mitigate potential security weaknesses.

Developing a Response Plan

  1. Necessity of a Communication Plan: A robust communication plan is vital during network outages. This plan ensures all stakeholders are promptly informed about the outage and receive regular updates until resolution. Effective communication minimizes confusion and maintains trust, making predefined notification templates and communication channels critical components​.
  2. Identification of Key Personnel: It's essential to clearly define and assign roles within the incident response team. Key personnel include an incident commander who directs the response and a communications lead responsible for messaging to stakeholders. Identifying these roles beforehand ensures a coordinated and efficient response to outages​.
  3. Backup Connectivity Options: Having backup connectivity options like satellite internet is crucial for maintaining operations during primary service disruptions. These alternatives provide a reliable failover solution that can keep critical business functions running and reduce downtime. Implementing such backup measures can safeguard operations against prolonged outages.

Response Strategies During Outages

Immediate Steps to Take

When an internet or network outage strikes, it can bring essential operations to a halt and disrupt communications. However, with a proactive approach and strategic planning, businesses can manage these situations efficiently and minimize disruption.

Verify the Outage's Extent

  1. Start with basic checks for defective cables or connectors. Sometimes, the problem is as simple as a damaged cable or an overheated router.
  2. Use real-time outage maps like those from ThousandEyes or Fing to see if the issue is broader than just your connection​.
  3. Establish a communication chain within your organization to ensure all relevant teams are informed and can begin troubleshooting based on predefined roles and responsibilities​.
  4. Keep a detailed log of the outage, noting the time it began, systems affected, and steps taken to resolve the issue. This documentation is vital for post-incident analysis and for improving future response efforts.
  5. Activate your incident response team quickly to manage the situation. This team should have clear protocols to follow, which include containment, eradication, and recovery steps.
  6. Use established communication plans to update stakeholders and customers about the outage, expected resolution time, and any steps they may need to take.

Activation of the Pre-Established Response Plan

  1. Activate the Response Plan: Implement your organization’s pre-established incident response plan immediately after detecting the outage. This plan should clearly outline the steps to manage and mitigate the outage.
  2. Assemble the Response Team: Gather your designated incident response team, including technical staff, management, and communications personnel, to coordinate the response​.
  3. Assess the Impact: Quickly assess the impact of the outage on operations and prioritize actions to minimize disruption to critical services​.
  4. Implement Containment Strategies: Contain the impact of the outage by isolating affected systems or rerouting traffic to reduce further damage.
  5. Communicate Internally and Externally: Keep internal stakeholders and external customers informed with regular updates about the status of the outage and expected resolution times​.
  6. Monitor Resolution Progress: Continuously monitor the resolution efforts and adjust strategies as needed to ensure effective mitigation of the outage.
  7. Review and Adapt the Plan: After the incident, review the effectiveness of the response plan and make necessary adjustments based on lessons learned from the outage.

Strategies for Keeping Stakeholders Informed

  1. Establish Clear Communication Channels: Utilize multiple channels such as emails, SMS, and social media to communicate effectively with stakeholders about the outage​.
  2. Use Automated Alert Systems: Implement systems that can automatically notify stakeholders when an outage occurs and provide regular updates​.
  3. Maintain Transparency: Provide honest and transparent information about the outage’s causes, impacts, and remedial steps being taken.
  4. Update Frequently: Provide frequent updates to keep stakeholders informed about the progress of resolving the outage and any changes in the situation.
  5. Be Proactive: Anticipate questions and concerns from stakeholders and address them proactively in your communications.
  6. Document Communications: Keep records of all communications related to the outage for accountability and future reference.
  7. Post-Resolution Follow-up: Once the outage is resolved, send a detailed report to all affected parties, summarizing the incident, actions taken, and any steps for future prevention​.

Troubleshooting Tips

Basic Diagnostic Checks

When faced with a network outage, here are some initial steps you can take to identify or rule out simple issues:

  1. Examine Physical Connections: Ensure all cables, routers, and switches are securely connected and powered on. Physical damage or disconnection is a common culprit​.
  2. Restart Devices: Often, simply restarting your modem, router, and computer can resolve connectivity issues by refreshing the network connection​.
  3. Check IP Configuration: Use the ‘ipconfig’ command on Windows or ‘ifconfig’ on Linux/Unix to check your device's IP settings. This can help identify misconfigurations or the need to renew your IP address​.
  4. DNS Check: Using ‘nslookup’, you can verify if DNS resolution issues are causing the outage, pinpointing whether the problem lies with reaching specific websites or services​.
  5. Monitor Network Traffic: Tools and commands like ‘netstat’ or ‘tcpdump’ can offer insights into active connections and traffic flow, helping identify unauthorized usage or congestion​.

Importance of Contacting ISP or IT Support

If the basic troubleshooting steps don’t resolve the issue, consult local outage pages from your ISP, such as those provided by CenturyLink or Pingdom. They can provide insights into larger scale issues affecting your connectivity, offer specific advice tailored to their services, or escalate the issue if it requires more technical intervention. For example, during widespread outages, your ISP can confirm the scope of the issue and provide estimated times for resolution.

Utilization of Alternative Communication Channels

During an internet outage, it’s wise to have alternative communication methods ready, especially for urgent communications. Using cellular data, setting up a hotspot from a mobile phone, or using messaging apps that require minimal data can keep you connected. For instance, during a major cable cut affecting fixed internet lines, individuals and businesses often rely on cellular networks to maintain essential communications until the main services are restored​.

The Aftermath of an Outage

Assessing the Impact

After a network outage, understanding its full impact is crucial for recovery and future prevention. 

Analyzing the Duration and Extent of Downtime

  • Identify the Start and End Time: Document when the outage began and when service was restored to determine the total duration.
  • Assess System Impact: Evaluate which systems were down and how they affected operations.
  • Financial Loss Assessment: Estimate financial losses by calculating lost sales, productivity, or additional recovery costs incurred during the outage. Surveys or financial models can help in estimating these costs accurately.
  • Customer Impact Analysis: Gauge how the outage affected customers, including service disruptions and potential loss of trust or business.
  • Review Incident Logs: Analyze logs to identify failure points and the extent of data or transaction losses.

Evaluation of the Response Plan’s Effectiveness

A thorough review of how the response plan was executed is crucial. This involves evaluating the speed and effectiveness of the response actions taken. For instance, consider a scenario where a swift restoration of services minimized downtime and preserved customer trust. This reflects a successful application of the response plan. Conversely, if recovery took longer than expected due to inadequate resources or unclear responsibilities, it indicates areas for improvement.

Use of Alternative Communication Channels

Using alternative communication channels such as cellular data or satellite communications ensures that critical business operations can continue. A good practice is to have these alternatives tested and integrated into the business continuity plan. For example, during a significant internet outage, businesses that switched seamlessly to cellular networks were able to maintain operations, demonstrating the effectiveness of having robust alternative communication strategies​.

Learning and Improving

Recommendations for Updating the Response Plan and Preventive Measures

  • Conduct a Thorough Review: After an outage, gather all stakeholders to review the event. What worked well? What didn't? This discussion should lead to clear updates in the plan.
  • Revise Based on New Insights: Integrate new learnings about vulnerabilities or failures that occurred during the outage. Adjust the response strategies and communication plans accordingly.
  • Update Training Procedures: Ensure that all relevant personnel are trained on the updated plan, focusing on new roles or responsibilities that may have emerged.
  • Enhance Monitoring Tools: Invest in better monitoring tools that could provide earlier warnings before an outage escalates.
  • Regularly Update Software and Hardware: Keep all systems updated to reduce vulnerabilities, ensuring that software patches and hardware upgrades are applied timely.

Implementation of Changes to Infrastructure or Procedures

  1. Infrastructure Upgrades: Invest in robust infrastructure solutions, such as upgraded network hardware and software that are less susceptible to failures.
  2. Adopt Cloud Solutions: Utilize cloud services for critical data and applications to enhance flexibility and access during disruptions.
  3. Diversify Connectivity Options: Establish multiple internet connectivity options to ensure redundancy, reducing dependency on a single source and minimizing downtime risks.
  4. Enhanced Security Measures: Implement advanced security protocols and tools to protect against cyber threats, reducing the risk of outages caused by security breaches.
  5. Physical Safeguards: Install physical safeguards in data centers, such as improved fire suppression systems and robust power backup solutions to protect against physical threats​.

Scheduling Regular Reviews of Systems and Protocols

Regular reviews and updates of your systems and protocols are essential to maintaining network resilience. For example, companies like those utilizing AWS's cloud services often engage in periodic reviews to ensure their systems align with current technologies and practices. This continuous re-evaluation helps them stay prepared for unexpected disruptions by keeping their recovery strategies and technologies up-to-date.

Future Trends in Internet and Network Reliability

Advances in Technology

As we look into the future of internet and network reliability, several technological advances are set to redefine the standards of connectivity and system robustness.

  1. Next-Generation Network Solutions: The rollout of 5G and enhanced fiber optic technologies is setting new standards for network reliability and speed. For instance, 5G networks are designed to provide significantly higher bandwidth and lower latency, supporting a vast array of IoT devices and real-time data transmission. Major telecommunications companies continue to expand their 5G infrastructure, pushing the boundaries of what mobile networks can achieve​.
  2. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: AI and machine learning are increasingly integral to managing network operations, especially in optimizing and securing network functions. Ericsson, for example, has implemented AI to enhance Radio Access Network (RAN) performance. Their AI-driven solutions automate complex processes like network design and optimization, leading to more efficient operations and improved user experiences. This use of AI not only helps in maintaining network reliability but also in anticipating and preventing potential disruptions​.

Policy and Regulation Changes

Government Initiatives for Network Infrastructure

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has launched strategic initiatives under its 5G Strategy to secure and make resilient 5G infrastructure across the United States. These efforts include engaging with federal, state, and industry partners to develop policies and standards that emphasize security and resilience, and providing technical assistance to stakeholders. 

For instance, CISA's strategic initiatives aim to support 5G policy development, expand awareness of 5G supply chain risks, and strengthen existing infrastructure to support future 5G deployments.

Industry Standards and Best Practices for Network Resilience

To enhance network resilience and reliability, several best practices have been identified:

  • Security by Design: Products and services should be developed with built-in security to minimize vulnerabilities.
  • Regular Updates and Patching: Continuous updating and patching of systems are essential to protect against known threats.
  • Robust Public-Private Partnerships: Collaboration between the public and private sectors is crucial for sharing threat intelligence and improving security solutions.
  • Investment in Secure Infrastructure: Ensuring that foundational network systems are robust enough to support new innovations and security measures.
  • Comprehensive Risk Management Strategies: Implementing detailed risk management strategies that cover every aspect of network operation and security.

The Bottom Line

We’ve seen how essential preparation and proactive strategies are in minimizing the impact of internet and network outages. By understanding the types and causes of disruptions, we can better equip ourselves with the necessary tools and knowledge to handle them effectively.

Looking ahead, we're encouraged to adopt and advocate for improvements in network technology and regulations. These advancements promise to enhance the resilience and reliability of our internet services, ensuring we stay connected when it matters most.


What are the first steps I should take when I suspect an internet outage?

When you suspect an outage, start by checking if the issue affects all devices in your network or just one. If it’s just one, the problem might be device-specific. Next, try restarting your router and modem as this can often resolve connection issues. If the problem persists, check online outage maps or your ISP's website for any service alerts.

How can I differentiate between an ISP issue and a problem on my own network?

To determine whether an outage is due to your ISP or your network, first check other devices connected to your network to see if the problem is widespread. Use tools like traceroute to identify where the connection fails. If all devices are affected and there is no obvious local disruption, it's likely an ISP issue.

What are some common signs that an outage is due to a cyberattack?

Signs of a cyberattack can include unusual network activity such as high traffic, unfamiliar programs running, or sudden unavailability of certain services. If your firewall or security software alerts you to unauthorized attempts to access your network, this could also indicate a cyberattack.

How should I communicate with customers during a network outage?

During an outage, keep communication with customers clear and frequent. Use multiple platforms like social media, email, and your company website to update customers about the issue, expected resolution time, and any steps they should take. Ensure your communication is transparent and empathetic to maintain trust.

Can I claim compensation for losses incurred during an outage?

Compensation for losses during an outage depends on your service agreement with the ISP and local regulations. Document the outage duration and its impact on your services. Contact your ISP to report the issue and inquire about possible compensation, providing all necessary documentation to support your claim.

InternetAdvisor Team

We are passionate about aggregating large, accurate data sets and providing it all to our users in an easy-to-use format. Simply put, shopping is easier for the consumer when he/she knows all available options. We are not beholden to any single provider and therefore are dedicated to transparency and giving you unbiased information on all providers.

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