A number of BBC online presences including the BBC News website, BBC iPlayer and other digital services suffered intermittent outages on Thursday morning.

The corporation blamed “a technical issue”, but it seems that ‘Aunty’ came under a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

DDoS Attack

The problems for the BBC websites began at 7am GMT on Thursday morning and lasted until 11am the same day. Users of the BBC websites got an ‘Error 500 – Internal Error’ message rather than website.

“We’re aware of a technical issue affecting the BBC website and are working to fix this now,” said the BBC press office on its Twitter feed. “We’ll update you as soon as we can.”

“The BBC website is now back up and operating normally,” it later added. “We apologise for any inconvenience you may have experienced.”

The BBC statement that the outage was caused by a “technical issue” is however at odds with a BBC news report on the matter, which blamed the problem on a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

That report quoted sources within the BBC as saying that the websites had been taken offline because of a DDoS attack.

The outages affected the main BBC website, as well as associated services including the BBC iPlayer and the iPlayer Radio app.

Other Outages

The BBC has suffered outages before. In July 2014, the iPlayer and many of its associated sites were offline for almost an entire weekend. That outage blamed on a database that sits behind the catch-up TV service.

But by far the most serious outage for the BBC came in 2011, when a total outage of the BBC News site, as well as the BBC iPlayer and other web services. It blamed that problem on a “major network outage”.

In 2012, the BBC admitted a cyber attack took down its Farsi-language service in London and its telephone and email services.

The BBC is currently in the process of migrating more and more of its traditional services to its website. This includes BBC3, which will be available online from February. But it worth noting that ‘Aunty’ has had problems with IT-related projects in the past.

For example, its Digital Media Initiative (DMI) designed to produce digital content, was declared a “complete failure” by MPs a few years ago.

The National Accounting Office (NAO) report on DMI said that the BBC was severely lacking in the implementation of the DMI programme, which ended up costing its licence payers £98.4m at the end of its six-year lifetime.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

View Comments

  • DDOS attacks are only successful because the number of page requests exceed the amount of computational power of the servers issuing them - when they’re overwhelmed they keel over and stop functioning.

    On the other hand, if there was an endless amount of computational power available then all DDOS attacks would fail to stop these servers and would have no affect.

    With this in mind, why can’t modern network infrastructures scale their operations dynamically by increasing the number of cached websites dynamically using the cloud? They could expand and contract as and when demand required it.

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