Cloudflare Route Leak Affected 15% of its Global Traffic

By Bill Toulas / June 25, 2019

Cloudflare issued an incident report yesterday that concerned an extensive BGP route leak that affected 15% of its global traffic. Considering that Cloudflare is used by 16 million websites around the world, this incident impacted internet speeds for everyone, so if you tried to browse any website yesterday, you should have noticed weird outages and slow loading times. The route leak also affected the access to some AWS (Amazon Web Services) servers, and while the issue has now been resolved, the incident highlights the problem with BGP route leaks and the enormous impact that they can have to the internet performance in general.

This is the same thing that happened in November 2018 for Google, and also the same rerouting issue that we reported a couple of weeks ago, both holding China Telecom responsible. BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) hijacking can occur when an ISP (Internet Service Provider) advertises IP addresses that don’t belong to their network, resulting in the routing of foreign traffic through them, which usually results in slower internet. It’s like your traffic data is taking a long way between you and the website server, so timeouts and poor performance are to be expected. These hijacks can happen either intentionally, or due to a misconfiguration.


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According to a ThousandEyes report, this time Cloudflare’s traffic went through Verizon, with the routing anomaly getting propagated to Qwest (New CenturyLink). Further investigation showed that it all started by a Pennsylvania-based metals company called “Allegheny Technologies” who isn’t even an ISP. The researchers noticed that as the route leak developed, there were dozens of more specific routes that were introduced, capturing traffic from legitimate Cloudflare routes. This is a sign of criminal activity, as advertising more specific routes is practically an escalation method, since the traffic data is leaving the “generic lanes” and enters the more-specific paths for the purpose of data siphoning.


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However, using these more-specific routes to pass traffic through a metals company indicates nothing malicious. The official explanation from Cloudflare is that Allegheny’s upstream provider, DQE, used a load balancing software tool that caused the initial route leak, something that the investigation of ThousandEyes confirms, even cautiously. BGP route optimization software can introduce risks like extensive route leaking, so this could be the case here indeed. This would be an isolated incident if Verizon had proper routing safeguards in place that could prevent the acceptance and propagation of these leaks. Instead, they failed to stop the error, and even to respond to Cloudflare in a timely manner.

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