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Friday, November 13, 2015

Cisco Broke my Internet

Many of our customers use Cisco's Anyconnect Secure Mobility Client to connect to their VPNs - it's easy to use and works great. Two days ago however, I started it up and it decided to auto-update without prompting me.  In general I'm not opposed to this - upgrades to software and especially security-related software like a VPN client can be critical, and companies can make the process relatively seamless (both Firefox and Chrome have been self-updating for awhile now and it hasn't caused me problems). This time, once the auto-update finished and the client restarted, my internet no longer worked.  I couldn't access websites and ironically I could no longer access VPNs either - Cisco's update had someone broken my internet and broken itself to boot. So after poking around for an hour or I figured out what had happened - Cisco had decided to 'bundle' in a separate Web Security Agent with the VPN client software update that was re-routing all my HTTP traffic to some sort of 'safety web scanner' service, and that service was failing.  My main internet connectivity was intact (I could ping IPs and get a response) but webpages were kaput.

This epitomizes one of the things I hate about a lot of modern software companies - tons of them want to stick things that you don't need and probably don't even want on your machine.  These practices are already pretty shady - you'll often get them if you don't check or uncheck some innocuous checkbox or you'll be 'implicitly agreeing' when you simply choose a 'Standard Install' option over the 'Advanced Install' that lets you unselect all that crap, but this time Cisco went one better and just stuck it on my machine without so much as letting me know what they'd done, let alone giving me the option to decide. The end result is that I booted up my computer and Cisco decided that it could just put things on it, and without so much as an 'ok' button my internet access was disabled.  I'm sure that's not what they intended, but it's what they did.

Fortunately I had another machine to search the web with, and after awhile I found that Cisco had installed a Web Security Agent - if this happens to you, you can go to Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Programs and Features, look for that Cisco Web Security Agent, and uninstall it - your internet access should come right back (and if you have it installed and you didn't intend to, you may want to uninstall it even if your internet is still working, as it's possible that it'll slow down your internet access by doing this HTTP service reroute).

It just goes to show that computer problems can come from anywhere - computer systems and web servers have become unimaginably complex, and here's an incomplete list of things that can cause an issue with your site:  Code bugs, database issues, OS problems, system upgrades, server resource limits, software updates, hardware failures, network outages, configuration settings, strange HTTP headers from a Chinese search engine, and an infinite variety of human errors.

So when something breaks the cause can be both unexpected and very difficult to track down.  At Fig Leaf, we deal with the unexpected every day, so if you need someone to help you navigate through the maze that is maintaining a website, give us a call.

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