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The 2020 Google Outage: 14th December 2020

Introduction

Just analyse a day in your life, and you will recognise how much Google has become an integral part of our lives. From Gmail to Google Maps, Google Chrome, YouTube, Google Hangouts, Google duo, Google Photos, Google Pay, Google Sheets, Google Drive, Google Translate etc, etc. There are many applications which we are dependent on Google for our day to day activities.

The “Outage”

Google suffered a major outage on the 14th December 2020. The main services of Google Cloud Platform and the Google Kubernetes Engine were impacted. G-Suite services like Gmail, Calendar, Meet, Docs and Drive were also affected. The outage lasted for about 45 minutes causing authentication errors for users in several parts of the world.

What Happened?

Within Google the outage is known as 'Google Cloud Infrastructure Components incident #20013’. It is reported that this was caused by an issue in their automated storage quota management system, which reduced the capacity of the authentication system. This reduced storage capacity of Google’s central identity management system, causing services that required a user to login to go down. (The Times of India)

The Impact

Not only did this render Google services inoperable, such as Gmail and Google Calendar, many third-party services were also affected if you were not already logged in. YouTube for example stopped working entirely if you were logged in via a google account, you could only then use YouTube by accessing a private browsing mode and using the non-signed in version of the service.

The Knock-On Effect

Users on other services also experienced problems. Slack users, for example could only message colleagues already signed in at the time of the outage, unless they had a separate username and password for Slack itself. Homeworkers were unable to change settings with a number of Google’s Smart Home services, including Google Home smart speakers, Nest thermostats and smoke alarms.

The reliability of these big tech systems has become increasingly important as people and businesses depend on the services, whether to search for information online, find directions, send email or get access to private documents.

The Big Tech Industry

This Google outage comes after a major failure at Amazon in late November. Amazons’ Virginia data centre failed for nearly 90 minutes, which took down Amazon for most American users, but many other companies services and websites that rely on AWS, the company’s cloud computing arm. (NY Times)

Some say that the biggest technology companies have grown too powerful and deserve more oversight. In the United States, Google and Facebook are facing anti-trust lawsuits. In the European Union, new regulations have been introduced to limit the industry’s power. (The Guardian)

Summary

This was the third major outage faced by Google users in the past two months. Although, it was clarified by a US adversary that the outage was not because of a cyber-attack, this incident has left everyone questioning, if it was really due to a storage issue or the start of a Cyber War? Certainly it's now clear that no government agency or technology business is immune to attack.

With cyber-attacks increasingly being aimed at technology firms with the sole aim of causing downtime as opposed to theft or physical damage, it's time to take information security seriously. Take up of platforms like Hicomply is high amongst the technology community exactly for that reason.

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