Why the New York Times website went down
A botched 'maintenance update' is likely responsible for the outage, not a cyberattack.
Thu, Aug 15, 2013 at 10:50 AM
The New York Times website mysteriously went offline on Wednesday, Aug. 14, with at least one unverified report claiming the newspaper's servers were victims of a cyberattack.
The Times site failed to load beginning about 11 am ET, and was down until about 1:30 pm ET.
"The @nytimes site is indeed down. Problem is being fixed," tweeted Times staffer Patrick LaForge at about 11:45 am.
"The New York Times Web site is experiencing technical difficulties. We expect to be back up shortly," the official Times twitter feed said about 10 minutes later.
That didn't stop Twitter users from joking about a possible cyberattack -- or the Fox Business website from reporting one.
"The corporate and media sites of The New York Times were experiencing a major cyberattack on Wednesday afternoon, according to a source close to the matter," a report on Fox Business read. "The source, who asked not to be named due to the sensitive nature of the issue, said the newspaper has been huddling with outside security professionals to assess the threat."
Fox Business reporter Matt Egan hinted in his tweets, if not in his reports, that the Times sites were being hit by a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, which would basically be overwhelming the Times servers with a huge number of bad requests.
Fox Business is owned by News Corporation, which also owns the Times' local and national rival, the Wall Street Journal. Other News Corporation outlets such as Fox News Channel and the New York Post rarely waste an opportunity to report negative news about the Times.
Times reporter Charlie Savage noticed that his company email service was behaving strangely.
"In addition to NYT website being down, it appears I cannot receive work account emails," Savage tweeted. "I can, however, successfully send them."
"Sounds like an attack on the name resolution," replied Massachusetts IT specialist Josh Mazgelis, suspecting a problem with the Times's Domain Name System (DNS) setup, which resolves the text-based Web addresses humans type in with the numerical Internet Protocol addresses computers use.
In a tweet about 12:45 pm ET, the Times denied the outage was the result of a cyberattack, stating, "We believe the outage is the result of an internal issue, which we expect to be resolved soon."
"I haven't seen anything yet to support the story that they are suffering an attack from malicious actors, so I'm inclined to believe them for now, until something more concrete comes up," British-based security expert Graham Cluley told Tom's Guide.
"Of course, in this day and age, any unexpected downtime of a major website does almost immediately make us think that it's the result of an attack," Cluley added. "But often it could be simply the case that some guy in the IT department has goofed up some DNS settings and it's taking some time for the site to pick itself up off its knees."
The site was restored around 1:30 pm ET, although its own clock continued to read "11:07 am ET" for some time.
Later, about 4 pm ET, the Times put a note on the front page of its website apologizing to readers for the outage.
"The outage occurred within seconds of a scheduled maintenance update, which we believe was the cause," read the note in part. "We are working on fully restoring service and apologize for any inconvenience."
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