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AT&T says the outage to its U.S. cellphone network was not caused by a cyberattack

FILE In this May 14, 2014 file photo, an AT&T logo on a store in Dedham, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) FILE In this May 14, 2014 file photo, an AT&T logo on a store in Dedham, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
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AT&T said the hourslong outage to its U.S. cellphone network Thursday appeared not to be the result of a malicious attack.

The outage knocked out cellphone service for thousands of its users across the U.S. starting early Thursday before it was restored.

“Based on our initial review, we believe that today’s outage was caused by the application and execution of an incorrect process used as we were expanding our network, not a cyber attack,” the Dallas-based company said.

Outage tracker Downdetector noted that outages, which began at about 3:30 a.m. ET, peaked at around 73,000 reported incidents. AT&T had more than 58,000 outages around noon ET, in locations including Houston, Atlanta and Chicago. The carrier is the country's largest, with more than 240 million subscribers.

By 8 p.m. ET, the reports on AT&T's network were fewer than 1,000.

Cricket Wireless, which is owned by AT&T, had more than 9,000 outages at one point but the reports had also tailed off later in the afternoon. Users of other carriers, including Verizon and T-Mobile, also reported issues but those companies said their networks were operating normally and the problems were likely stemming from customers trying to connect to AT&T users.

During the outage, some iPhone users saw SOS messages displayed in the status bar on their cellphones. The message indicates that the device is having trouble connecting to their cellular provider’s network, but it can make emergency calls through other carrier networks, according to Apple Support.

The Federal Communications Commission contacted AT&T about the outage and the Department of Homeland Security and FBI were also looking into it, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

The FBI acknowledged it had contacted AT&T. “Should we learn of any malicious activity we will respond accordingly,” the agency said. 

The outage also raised concerns on Capitol Hill.

“We are working to assess today’s disruption in order to gain a complete understanding of what went wrong and what can be done to prevent future incidents like this from occurring,” said a statement issued by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Ohio Republican Bob Latta, chair of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

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