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Thousands of websites and digital services around the world were unavailable on Thursday after cloud computing company Akamai experienced what it called a “service incident.” Akamai, a Massachusetts-based company whose services work behind the scenes to keep large portions of the internet functioning, said on its website that it is “aware of an emerging issue with the Edge DNS service.” DNS stands for Domain Names System, which, broadly speaking, is how Internet Protocol or IP addresses read by computers get translated into words that can be read by humans. Typically, a DNS service is what keeps websites up and running when they are under siege from malicious third parties trying to overwhelm them by sending a huge flood of traffic to them all at once. Akamai’s DNS services guard against those attacks, known as DDOS or Distributed Denial Of Service attacks. “They’re like a shield that steps in between you and the website,” Matt Hatfield, campaigns director with digital rights watchdog Open Media, said in an interview. “But when that service has problems, it means all the sites that use them as protection have problems.”

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