July 29, 2021

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Failure of emergency numbers: “There were inadequacies on the part of Orange”


The government presents us, this Thursday, July 22, the results of its audit on the vast breakdown of the telephone network which made inaccessible the emergency numbers 15 (Samu), 17 (police), 18 (fire brigade) and 112 (European number) single), on June 2 for several hours, a period during which six deaths occurred due to lack of access to public assistance. And the conclusion is final, formulated by Cédric O, the Secretary of State in charge of Electronic Communications:

There have been shortcomings on the part of Orange.

On the progress, the report submitted by the National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (Anssi), the General Inspectorate of Administration (IGA), the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs (Igas), the General Council of the Economy (CGE) and the Commission for Electronic Communications of Defense (CCED) uses the one already posed by Orange in its in-house investigation. Note that the failure occurred on Wednesday June 2, at 4:45 p.m., during a maintenance operation on telephone network equipment.

Failure of emergency numbers: Orange’s investigation concludes a software bug

“Hazardous orders placed by Orange”

Technically, the malfunction is due to network equipment called “calls servers”, gateways allowing interconnection between the old switched telephone network (PSTN, the one called “copper”) and the fiber network carrying internet data, including voice over IP (“VoIP”). This passage is compulsory for calls made from a wi-fi telephone to a landline, or from a mobile of another operator to emergency numbers (these still use 90% of the old PSTN). The report retains:

The equipment malfunction was caused by operator manipulation, which triggered a software bug that blocked the equipment and left it uncontrollable.

The logo of the operator Orange. (ERIC PIERMONT / AFP)

Indeed, Anssi insists on the conjunction of three factors, namely first of all “ orders [informatiques] a bit risky passed by Orange “, That is to say technical manipulations for an operation to improve the call server but carried out” in an unusual order By the technician. Then these same commands were replicated ” in a very short time »On all the call servers (present in redundancy to avoid breakdowns). This is where ” appeared the bug “On the equipment supplied by the provider Italtel, bug which” is not the responsibility of Orange “.

Huge breakdown of emergency numbers: whose fault is it?

Finally, the agency would also like to note “ a certain slowness in Orange’s reaction “And” a lack of technical advice on his part To the various emergency services.

“Study the suites”

The government report retains as reproaches:

  • The absence of test procedures before putting into production during the manipulations of the operator;
  • Failure to take into account past incidents affecting emergency numbers in the operator’s technical procedures;
  • The lack of specific treatment or supervision for emergency numbers is surprising and largely explains the delays in identifying the origin of the dysfunction and its impacts.
  • The excessively slow ramp-up of the Orange crisis system in view of the criticality of emergency numbers;
  • The absence of a national system dedicated to these specific numbers;
  • Orange’s inability to play an advisory role in the technical apprehension of the crisis with the public authorities. “

In total, around 3 million calls were unsuccessful, including 11,800 to emergency numbers, Orange told us. The incident probably had dramatic consequences: judicial or administrative inquiries were opened into six deaths that occurred during the blackout. “Orange took nearly an hour to realize that the outage affected the emergency services in particular, two hours to inform the authorities and nearly three hours to put in place an appropriate system”, insists the report.

The great fatigue of Stéphane Richard, the king of Orange

Also, Cédric O indicates that “ the government will seize Arcep in the coming days [le gendarme des télécoms] to study the suites Potentially judicial. Telecoms operators are in fact obliged to route calls, in particular emergency calls, as well as to maintain the security and integrity of networks.

In addition, by the end of September, new recommendations for the management of emergency numbers will be established, and will have to be implemented by the operators. All accompanied by a future crisis exercise.