Last year, hackers took down music distribution site SoundCloud for 36 hours. Co-founder Alex Ljung explains how SoundCloud responded to millions of infuriated users.
00:07 Alex Ljung: Everything is about the site. So, when it's down, you're basically dead.
In 2008, Alex Ljung, who grew up in Sweden, co-founded SoundCloud, a site that helps musicians create, record, and share audio clips.
In just three years, SoundCloud had more than 5 million registered users.
00:28 Ljung: We had this one day when I was sitting at my desk and checking out some new stuff on SoundCloud and noticed how the site is starting to go slower and slower. Sometimes, that may be just be a temporary thing, but it didn't feel right somehow. I go out and asked Tim, "What's going on?" And people were like, "We're all in stress mode, like something is wrong, something is not right." And it starts to become clearer that it is somebody attacking the site and intentionally wanting to pull it down.
SoundCloud was under a "denial of services" attack, which swamped the site with traffic.
It brought the site to a complete standstill and prevented users from logging on.
01:15 Ljung: If you imagine a road with lots of cars, it's like somebody dumping in thousands of cars onto it, so nobody can get through. So basically, it's just, a regular user comes to the site with no chance to use it because you have all these malicious or all this traffic being sent to it. So, our site is down, we're starting to see millions of users on Twitter getting very angry, very upset, not being able to get their SoundCloud. And the first thing you think of is like, "Why? Why would somebody do this? We're SoundCloud. We're trying to help all these creators. Why would somebody do this?" And obviously, engineering, working around the clock trying to set this up, the outage lasted for more than a day. I remember going to sleep at night, lying in my bed, and trying to go to sleep while knowing that right now, somebody's trying to access the site and they can't get to it. And you really realize at that point that everything you're doing, everything you're working on, like all the plans, like all the great new things, like none of it matters. As soon as the site is down, nothing matters.
SoundCloud was down for 36 hours.
Alex and his engineers worked in shifts until the problem was fixed.
02:35 Ljung: I think one of the great things that happened throughout it though was our community teamwork and constantly replying to all these Tweets. When something like this happens, you kind of instinctively, you wanna say that, "Oh, we're on top of it and we're gonna fix it and stuff." But I think what actually was the key to turning the community around and getting the support was that we were completely transparent about, "Hey, we're down and we don't know what's going on". So, that piece of being very open about it and being really transparent, and that, "We don't know what's going on and we actually don't have any updates, but we just wanted to give you an update to tell you that we don't have an update." I think that that sort of resonates with people and they see that it's honest. And all this time, we started to see, like popping up on Facebook and Twitter all these like sparks of support. Even though the site was down for them, they couldn't use it, they were starting to support it. I see like one of the Tweets is like, from RZA from the Wu Tang Clan, and he's like "Hey, DoSers, lay off SoundCloud. I need to post my Wednesday track." And we were like shouting about that in the room and it was just great to have that support.
SoundCloud still doesn't know who was behind the attack.
But it now has infrastructure in place to handle a similar occurrence.
It also has more than 20 million registered users.
In January 2012, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers led a fundraising round in SoundCloud, and the site was reportedly valued at $200 million pre-money.