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Password snafu blocks Net access for millions

PC World

By Tom Spring

(IDG) -- Password problems at EarthLink knocked as many as 1.5 million users off the Internet Monday, preventing them from accessing the Web and their e-mail for much of the day.

The outage impacted EarthLink customers with MindSpring-labeled accounts (EarthLink bought MindSpring in 1999). Starting at about 11:30 a.m. EST, customers who tried to go online ran into an impassable "authentication problem."

The problem continued for most of Monday. At 3:30 p.m. EST, EarthLink officials announced the company had fixed the problem. Tests by confirmed the system was up and running, although login seemed a bit sluggish. INFOCENTER
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Problem hits broadband and dial-up users

Monday's problems hit both dial-up and broadband MindSpring customers, a group that makes up 1.5 million of EarthLink's 4.5 million users. The problem did not impact the 3 million users, the company said. The problem also didn't impact the company's e-mail and Web-hosting services, officials said.

EarthLink blamed computer equipment located in its Atlanta, Georgia data center for the problem. The equipment processes passwords and authenticates account information when users first log on to their MindSpring account. One authentication server went down, and that triggered problems in the other authentication servers, said Steve Dougherty, director of systems vendor management.

"This is an absolute aberration," he said, noting that the company's network is usually very reliable. "We are up and running 99.9 percent of the time."

Experts: Problems not uncommon

At least one industry watchdog disagrees. It would be unusual if an Internet service provider never failed, said Justin Beech, chief executive officer of, a sounding board and a consumer advocacy forum for broadband customers.

"Last week even the New York Stock Exchange went down," Beech said. "Now a day's (network failures) are just part of doing business."

Beech said MindSpring customers started having authentication errors as early as June 8, based on postings to his Web site. "It looks like the problem got progressively worse until something finally broke."

EarthLink officials said they were not aware of any earlier problems. "As far as we are aware, this was a one-time problem," said Carla Shaw, a company spokesperson.



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