An internet traffic diversion that re-routed data through Russia and China disrupted Google services on Monday, including search, cloud-hosting services and its bundle of collaboration tools for businesses.
Service interruptions lasted for nearly two hours and ended about 5:30 pm EST (4:00 am IST), network service companies said. In addition to Russian and Chinese telecommunications companies, a Nigerian internet provider was also involved.
The diversion “at a minimum caused a massive denial of service to G Suite (business collaboration tools) and Google Search” and “put valuable Google traffic in the hands of ISPs in (internet service providers) in countries with a long history of Internet surveillance,” the network-intelligence company ThousandEyes said in a blog post.
A Google status page noted that “access to some Google services was impacted” and said the cause was “external to Google .” The company offered little additional information.
The type of traffic misdirection employed, known as border gateway protocol hijacking, can knock essential services offline and facilitate espionage and financial theft. It can result either from misconfiguration — human error, essentially— or from malicious action.
Most network traffic to Google services —94% as of October 27 — is encrypted, which shields it from prying eyes even if diverted.
Alex Henthorn-Iwane, an executive at ThousandEyes, called Monday’s incident the worst affecting Google that his San Francisco company has seen. He said he suspected nation-state involvement because the traffic was effectively landing at state-run China Telecom. A recent study by US Naval War College and Tel Aviv University scholars found that China systematically hijacks and diverts US internet traffic.
Google said it had no reason to believe the traffic hijacking was malicious. It did not explain why.
Much of the internet’s underpinnings are built on trust, a relic of the good intentions its designers assumed of users. One consequence: little can be done if a nation-state or someone with access to a major internet provider — or exchange — decides to re-route traffic.
Henthorn-Iwane says Monday’s hijacking may have been “a war-game experiment.”
In two recent cases, such rerouting has affected financial sites. In April 2017, one affected MasterCard and Visa among other sites. This past April, another hijacking enabled cryptocurrency theft .