WhatsApp outage ‘a nightmare’ for group working to rescue Afghans, American citizens

While Twitter is full of jokes about the outage plaguing Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, it’s no laughing matter to Safi Rauf.

“It’s a nightmare,” Rauf —who depserved as a linguist and cultural advisor embedded with Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan and now runs a major rescue effort for those left behind — told Military Times. “I have people all over Afghanistan I can not communicate with.”

Rauf founded the Human First Coalition. It is one of several ad hoc organizations that sprung up during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan when it became clear tens of thousands of people who helped the U.S. and its allies over the course of 20 years of conflict would be left behind, possibly facing retribution from the Taliban. The messaging service WhatsApp has played a significant part of the communications effort, Rauf said. All told, he is in contact with about 2,500 people in Afghanistan.

“I have people all over Afghanistan trying to communicate with me through WhatsApp and I can not get a hold of them,” he said.

Human First Coalition has helped rescue more than 6,000 people from Afghanistan, including about 1,000 American citizens and their families, Rauf said.

The outage, he said, “is a concern” for those still needing help. Several former interpreters have reached out to Military Times via WhatsApp on a regular basis.

“It sucks,” Bryan Stern — who founded Project Dynamo, which recently worked with Human First Coalition and other groups to get a flight of more than 100 people out of Afghanistan — told Military Times. “The entire world uses WhatsApp and similar apps. It’s like a phone outage.”

Mike Jason, a retired Army colonel and executive director of Allied Airlift 21, which has helped rescue about 700 people, told Military Times that the outage “is affecting out ability to get info from our Afghans.

“However,” he added, “we had established alternate communication platforms and those are still available, so it’s more an inconvenience.”

Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, suffered a worldwide outage Monday that has extended more than three hours. Facebook’s internal systems used by employees also went down. Service has not yet been restored As on Monday evening.

The company did not say what might be causing the outage, which began around 11:40 a.m. ET. Websites and apps often suffer outages of varying size and duration, but hourslong global disruptions are rare.

“This is epic,” said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis for Kentik Inc, a network monitoring and intelligence company. The last major internet outage, which knocked many of the world’s top websites offline in June, lasted less than an hour. The stricken content-delivery company in that case, Fastly, blamed it on a software bug triggered by a customer who changed a setting.

Facebook’s only public comment so far was a tweet in which it acknowledged that “some people are having trouble accessing (the) Facebook app” and that it was working on restoring access. Regarding the internal failures, Instagram head Adam Mosseri tweeted that it feels like a “snow day.”

But the impact was far worse for multitudes of Facebook’s nearly 3 billion users, showing just how much the world has come to rely on it and its properties — to run businesses, connect with communities of affinity, log on to multiple other websites and even to order food.

It also showed that, despite the presence of Twitter, Telegram, Signal, TikTok, Snapchat and a bevy of other platforms, the world struggles to replace the social network that has evolved in 17 years into all but critical infrastructure. Facebook’s request Monday that a revised antitrust complaint against it by the Federal Trade Commission be dismissed because it faces vigorous competition from other services seemed to ring a bit hollow.

The cause of the outage remains unclear. Madory said it appears Facebook withdrew “authoritative DNS routes” that let the rest of the internet communicate with its properties. Such routes are part of the internet’s Domain Name System, a central component of the internet that directs its traffic. Without Facebook broadcasting its routes on the public internet, apps and web addresses simple could not locate it.

So many people are reliant on Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram as a primary mode of communication that losing access for so long can make them vulnerable to criminals taking advantage of the outage, said Rachel Tobac, a hacker and CEO of SocialProof Security.

Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.

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