September 04, 2017

A small mistake by Google broke half the internet in Japan

by Neha Monga

A tiny mistake made by a Google employee broke the internet for half of Japan causing disruptions that lasted for hours.

On August 25, a Google employee made a small mistake while updating an internet routing table, which is a collection of IP addresses. The mistake made it seem as though a large chunk of IP addresses were available to route traffic through Google. Those IP addresses, however, were owned by Japanese telcos, so it resulted in a large amount of Internet traffic meant for Japan being sent to Google.

However, Google is not an internet service provider and is not capable of routing internet traffic. This meant that all the traffic that was headed to Japan was left stranded, making it seem to users they had slow or no connectivity at all.

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According to Google, it spotted and corrected the mistake in about 8 minutes, with connectivity being restored within an hour. However, by then the damage was already done. The error affected many Japanese banks, as online trading was suspended, and other corporations who couldn’t use their web services, customers of the East Japan Railway Company couldn’t book tickets, and millions of customers of NTT Communications, Japan’s largest telecom, had no service.

“We set wrong information for the network and, as a result, problems occurred. We modified the information to the correct one within eight minutes. We apologize for causing inconvenience and anxieties (among Internet users),” a Google spokesperson told The Asahi Shimbun.

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The issue was so huge that the country’s Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry actually began an investigation seeking to uncover exactly what caused the outage.

Although Japan’s internet was back to normal in a few hours, but the huge impact of a relatively small error is a reminder of how fragile the internet architecture can be.

With so much of our life spent online, it is scary to see that how an unintentional error can bring down half a country. This was a very small error and Google took only a few minutes to resolve the issue, however it is scary to imagine what may have happened if the issue was irreversible.

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