FBI 'urgently investigating' whether AT&T outage was a cyberattack after thousands of customers hit by blackout

23 February 2024, 00:13

AT&T customers were unable to send texts, access the internet or make calls, even to emergency services via 911.
AT&T customers were unable to send texts, access the internet or make calls, even to emergency services via 911. Picture: Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

The FBI and Homeland Security is 'urgently investigating' whether an AT&T outage was a cyberattack.

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Customers of the US’s biggest phone network, AT&T, were left unable to make phone calls, including to emergency services, for several hours on Thursday.

While it is not yet confirmed, a security expert told MailOnline said the incident had 'all the hallmarks of a cyber attack'.

The company said that ‘three quarters’ of services had been restored, after an outage lasting many hours.

AT&T’s previous statement said: “We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience that is happening and some of our customers are experiencing wireless service interruptions this morning.

“We are working urgently to restore service to them. We encourage the use of Wi-Fi calling until service is restored.”

AT&T, Cricket Wireless, Verizon, T-Mobile and other service providers were all affected, according to data from Downdetector.

Although, T-Mobile and Verizon claimed their networks were not affected by the outage, suggesting that those experiencing issues may just be struggling to reach those on AT&T.

The phone network had more than 73,000 outages this morning, in locations including Houston, Atlanta and Chicago.

Cricket Wireless had more than 13,000, the outage tracking website said on Thursday. Verizon had more than 4,000 outages and T-Mobile had more than 1,800 outages. Boost Mobile had about 700 outages.

Downdetector shows that there has since been a drop in the number of self-reported outages across the country.

The number has now fallen to about 7,000 people, although this is not necessarily a full view of the service outage, as the data relies on people self-reporting service disruptions.

Customers have been left furious over the service issues, with many criticising AT&T for being too slow to update customers.

One user of their services wrote: "AT&T cellular service down. Downdetector reporting numerous cell services with issues. Is this a massive cyber attack on the cellular infrastructure? Was there a solar flare or satellite malfunction?

"The issue appears to be nationwide, if not international."

Other AT&T customers have reported their iPhones being stuck in 'SOS' mode as a result of the outage.

One wrote: "Explains why my phone was on sos."

While multiple users have called for a renumeration, as one said: "Make sure our bills reflects the interruption."

The company has not yet provided a timeframe of when customers can expect service to be fully restored.

There is no indication that the outage was the result of a cyberattack or malicious activity, an industry source told CNN.

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security agency said it is “working closely with AT&T to understand the cause of the outage and its impacts, and stand[s] ready to offer any assistance needed”.

A number of local governments reported disruptions to services as a result of the outages.

San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management said that while its 911 centre remained operational - AT&T customers had reported being unable to reach the line due to the service outage.

While The Fire Department in Upper Arlington, Ohio said the service was affecting its fire alarms.

Experts have said that the Federal Communications Commission is likely to investigate the outage.

“The carriers are required to report their outage numbers over time, and the commission can track the number of consumers and cell sites down and things like that,” a former FCC official said.

“The FCC is going to want to know what caused it so that lessons can be learned. And if they find malfeasance or bad actions or, just poor quality of oversight of the network, they have the latitude to act.”