Online outages hit banks and airlines, again showing the fragility of the digital economy

June 17, 2021, 10:23 AM UTC

Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

The physical underpinnings of our digital economy—the infrastructure that makes up the Internet—are mostly very resilient. The Internet is a network of networks after all; knock one part out, and the rest remains operational.

However, the way we use the Internet has become increasingly dependent on a small number of content-delivery networks, or CDNs, that…well, deliver content. Through networks of data centers sited around the world, they ensure that the services people use and the content they read are delivered to their eyeballs as quickly as possible, and at as high a quality as possible. The bigger the portfolio of localized servers, the bigger the benefit for users scattered around the world.

This does not seem to be a good month for CDNs.

Just over a week ago, one of the biggest—Fastly—had an outage that knocked out scores of content providers for around an hour. The incident impacted everyone from the New York Times and the White House to Reddit and the Twitch livestreaming platform. Even Amazon got taken out for many users; ironically, its retail website relies on Fastly rather than Amazon’s own CloudFront CDN.

And here we go again. Akamai, another one of the biggest CDN providers, just suffered an outage that took out the websites of the big U.S. airlines—American, Southwest, United, Delta—while also whacking Australia’s banking sector, postal service, and again some airlines (Virgin Australia, whose gate crew reportedly were unable to access their IT systems for half an hour). The Reserve Bank of Australia also fell victim to the incident and reportedly had to cancel an operation to buy long-dated government bonds.

Although details are scarce, the problem this time appears to have been something to do with another one of Akamai’s key services, for mitigating distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. With Fastly, it was an “undiscovered software bug.”

A lot of attention is—quite rightly—given to the risks posed to our online world by DDoS attacks, ransomware and other manifestations of cybercrime. But every company’s IT department should bear in mind that the way we run things these days also allows more benign incidents to have major, disruptive effects. Here’s hoping the frequency isn’t going to keep increasing.

* * *

Separately, the U.S. House of Representatives has agreed to make June 19th, or “Juneteenth,” a federal holiday to commemorate the end of legal slavery of Black Americans in 1865. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday and President Biden is expected to sign it into law this afternoon.

Fortune will be celebrating Juneteenth tomorrow, so CEO Daily will return to your inboxes on Monday.

More news below.

David Meyer


CureVac bust

Germany's CureVac released very disappointing COVID-19 vaccine trial results, showing only 47% efficacy—so, below the 50% is-it-worth-it threshold. They're preliminary results, and CureVac is plowing on, but its share price fell by more than half on the news. CureVac may have had a tougher time in its trial than earlier rivals because most of the cases observed in the study were down to newer, tougher COVID variants. Fortune

Nadella roles

Satya Nadella is now Microsoft's board chair as well as its CEO. It's a vote of confidence in Nadella, seven years into his CEO-ship. Microsoft said John Thompson, the erstwhile chair, has been scaling back his work in recent years and will now return to the role of lead independent director, which he held before becoming chair in 2014. Fortune

Facebook vs deepfakes

Facebook and Michigan State University researchers claim to have made significant progress in detecting so-called deepfakes—doctored photos and videos that make people look like they're doing or saying things they're not. Facebook and Michigan State's system is apparently 70% accurate, and what's more, it works frame-by-frame rather than studying the media pixel-by-pixel, meaning it requires less computing power than earlier systems of comparable accuracy. Fortune

Fed rate

Global markets slipped slightly this morning following a U.S. dip yesterday that was precipitated by Federal Reserve signals of interest rates rising sooner than previously expected. Fed officials said they expect higher interest rates by late 2023—a sudden shift that shocked some observers. Wall Street Journal


Biden and Putin

Yesterday's Geneva summit between Presidents Biden and Putin suggested that Washington and Moscow might be able to work with one another again. It didn't deliver much in the way of concrete results, but it also wasn't aggressive, nor disrespectful. As Putin cheerfully put it afterwards, paraphrasing Tolstoy: "There is no happiness in life. There is only the mirage of it on the horizon. So we’ll cherish that." Politico

Delta variant

Fortune's Sy Mukherjee takes you through what you need to know about the Delta variant of the coronavirus, first spotted in India and now spreading rapidly around the globe. The Delta variant is what just delayed the U.K.'s reopening by at least four weeks. "Depending on cases and hospitalizations going forward caused by this pathogenic tweak, communities with low vaccination rates may have to continue being cautious," he writes. "And experts point out that variants such as this are precisely why people shouldn’t get just one dose of a two-dose COVID vaccine and call it a day." Fortune

Fed diversity

Former Federal Reserve staffers Fanta Traore and Kaleb Nygaard write for Fortune that the Fed, which is pro diversity and economic inclusion, is itself largely led by white men: "More must be done to address rising and unprecedented levels of inequality imbued with systemic racism. The U.S. central banking system must not only continue to reflect inwardly, it also has to take action to get its own leadership to where it needs to be—especially with regard to the representation of women of color." Fortune

Zero Coke

Coca-Cola lost $4 billion in market value yesterday after the Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo moved a couple Coke bottles away in a press conference. Ronaldo wanted water instead. "Everyone is entitled to their drink preferences," the company said afterwards. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

Our mission to make business better is fueled by readers like you. To enjoy unlimited access to our journalism, subscribe today.

Read More

CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet