Update: Microsoft Web sites inaccessible due to server problems

Problems with Microsoft Corp.'s Domain Name System (DNS) servers left the software vendor's heavily used Web sites inaccessible to Internet users starting late last night and continuing for much of Wednesday, according to the company.

The software vendor said in a statement issued late Wednesday that the outages were caused by a faulty configuration change made by one of its technicians "to the routers on the edge of Microsoft's DNS network." The router configuration was made late Tuesday and resulted in "limited communication between DNS servers on the Internet and Microsoft's DNS servers," the company said.

"This was an operational error, and not the result of any issue with Microsoft or third-party products nor the security of our networks," Microsoft added. The company said it removed the configuration changes at about 8:00 p.m. eastern time on Wednesday "and immediately saw a massive improvement in the DNS network."

Earlier in the day, Microsoft spokesman Adam Sohn confirmed that problems with the DNS servers that translate Web site names into the actual IP addresses appeared to be the culprit behind the outages.

"The sites are up, but inaccessible," Sohn said. Affected sites included those using the Microsoft.com, WindowsMedia.com, Expedia.com, MSN.com and Carpoint.com Web addresses, according to Sohn. "Our networking guys are on top of it, and we hope to resolve the issue as quickly as we can," he said.

At about 1:00 p.m. eastern time, Microsoft's main Web site became accessible again to at least some users. But it was still difficult to get to many of the company's affiliated sites, and the Microsoft home page became inaccessible again shortly thereafter.

The problems came just several days after a technology glitch at a Bermuda-based Web hosting firm temporarily redirected some Internet traffic away from Microsoft's Web site and ones run by other companies (see story). The president of the Bermuda firm said that incident started because of faulty entries in its DNS table.

The outage prevented Microsoft users from downloading software updates or getting online support. It also left the news portal MSNBC.com online, but unable to reach its audience.

Other inaccessible sites included Windowsupdate.com, which contains updates for the Windows operating system; Passport.com, Microsoft's online identification service; and bCentral.com, a portal for small- and medium-size businesses.

Hackers could be responsible for the outage, said Simon Hania, spokesman for Dutch Internet service provider XS4ALL Internet BV. "The name server that is authoritative for Microsoft's Web sites might have crippled under a denial-of-service attack," he said.

However, he added, it's more likely that a network error or system failure caused the problem.

The DNS consists of many machines around the world set up in a hierarchy. "It looks like the machine hit is in the top of the DNS tree," Hania said. "Once it is fixed, it can take a couple of hours for all DNS systems around the world to pick up the correct DNS information."

Microsoft had another, unrelated problem with its Web presence yesterday, when a group of hackers who go by the name Prime Suspectz cracked the New Zealand site of the software manufacturer and defaced the home page.

Joris Evers is a reporter for the IDG News Service.

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