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Updated A major cock-up at Akamai has seen the world's biggest websites vanish from view for two hours today.

From around 1.30pm, the Internet domain that Akamai uses to host content - akadns.net - disappeared and only reappeared at 3.30pm. Because a huge number of websites run through the Akamai site - including the world's four biggest, Yahoo.com, MSN.com, Google.com and Microsoft.com - when Akamai went down, so did they.

Akamai is the world's biggest content hoster, claiming to carry 15 per cent of the Net's traffic. Companies pay it to seamlessly host their website content so files that appear to be at www.microsoft.com are, in reality, hosted at www.microsoft.akamai.net.

Ironically, one of Akamai's main selling pitches for its technology is that it prevents there from being a single point of failure. Outsourcing content to a specialist like Akamai enables companies to concentrate on content rather than have to install their own infrastructure to deal with such things as denial-of-service attacks. But the concept appears to be rather like the Titanic - founded on the belief that Akamai is unsinkable.

Akamai has got back to us to explain that the problem stemmed from what a spokesman called a "large scale international attack on the Internet's infrastructure". Akamai said the attack was primarily aimed at the large search engines - of which it runs the three largest, Yahoo!, Google and Lycos - which meant that people were unable to access the sites.

The spokesman denied however that it was an outage and said that the Akamai name service continued to function throughout the attack which ended around two hours later.

The company is still analysing the attack and the spokesman told us it could not yet conclude whether it was directed solely at Akamai. ®

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