The fallout from a massive network outage at Rogers Communications that disrupted mobile and internet services across much of Canada continued to be the focus on Saturday, even as the company restored most services and began to offer an explanation of what happened.
The widespread disruption, which began early Friday morning, crippled communications across all sectors, including health care, law enforcement and the financial sector. Many 911 services were unable to receive incoming calls, several hospitals reported impacts to their services, and debit transactions were halted when Interac went offline.
Small business owners were among the hardest hit by the outage, which left them unable to process debit card payments.
Sharif Ahmed, owner of Plantforsoul outlet in west Toronto, said the outage left him helpless as he turned away customers who had no money.
“It pretty much shut down my business,” he said in an interview on Saturday. “Most people don’t use cash anymore, so I sat in my office doing nothing.”
Suddenly losing the ability to accept card payments is a “big deal”, he said.
“We just can’t stop, we pay rent and everything.”
At nearby Caked Coffee, owner Supreet Arora said customers came in thinking only their wifi and mobile phones were affected – only to find the cafe had no wifi either.
“They came, you want to help them, (but) there’s no wifi here,” he said.
He said he always forgets to tell people he can only take money after he cooks their food. He served them anyway, adding many customers who returned later to pay their bills.
Rogers CEO Tony Staffieri released a statement on Saturday afternoon saying service has been restored and “the company’s networks and systems are nearly fully operational.”
He said the company continues to monitor its network for issues and to investigate the root cause of the issues.
“We now believe we have narrowed the cause to a network system failure following a maintenance update to our core network which caused some of our routers to malfunction early Friday morning,” he said. .
Staffieri apologized for the outage, adding that “we are particularly troubled that some customers were unable to reach emergency services and we are treating the issue as an urgent priority.”
Richard Leblanc, professor of governance, law and ethics at York University in Toronto, said the outage presents a learning opportunity for threat actors such as state-sponsored Russian hackers. He said these parties can now see how vulnerable Canadian industry, financial institutions and healthcare systems are to an attack on a telecommunications provider.
“It could have been catastrophic for the country if it was a threatening actor,” he said in a telephone interview.
Leblanc said the outage — Rogers’ second major one in 15 months — makes it clear the federal government can’t just rely on telcos to do the right thing.
“I think it’s time for regulators, and that includes Industry Canada, the (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) and the Competition Tribunal, to start insisting on proper, robust and properly audited internal controls. independent so you don’t have a breakdown like that,” he says.
While Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne called the outage “unacceptable”, Leblanc said such talk needed to be followed by action.
“I think regulators have the authority, they have the power, the question is do they have the courage to use it?” he said.
CRTC spokeswoman Patricia Valladao said the telecom regulator is in contact with Rogers.
“Right now, we’re focused on outage and recovery,” she wrote in an email. “When this is over, we will take all necessary steps to review what happened and put in place the necessary measures to prevent it from happening again.”
According to Netblocks, a UK-based organization that monitors cybersecurity, the outage destroyed about 25% of Canada’s observable internet connectivity at its peak.
Rogers said it would proactively credit customers for the outage, but did not provide details on the amount. The company said it was aware of spam emails claiming to offer the credit and noted that customers would automatically be credited.
Leblanc said he expects to see class action lawsuits, as well as lawsuits from individual companies, who will try to quantify the cost of the outage.
“Lawyers are good at it, so if there’s a class action, they can measure lost productivity, opportunity cost of not being able to work, missed meetings, missed opportunities, missed contracts, it’s important,” he said. “If all these millions of people lose a day of their professional life, they will not be cured by a credit.”
Rogers did not respond Saturday to multiple requests for comment from The Canadian Press on the number of customers affected and the credit customers will receive.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 9, 2022.
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Jacob Serebrin and Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press