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Is the undersea optical cable vulnerable to "turning off" the global Internet?

You may not realize it, but most of the infrastructure that connects to the Internet is beneath the oceans, in the form of a large fiber optic network, which helps to transfer data across multiple countries. Marine optical cables play an important role in global communication, but they are hardly protected due to their underwater installation. Safety of undersea cables is a recent hot topic as experts warn that an underground sabotage could disrupt Internet connectivity between continents, such as between the US and Europe.


According to the Guardian, the head of the British defense ministry and chairman of the NATO military committee – Lt. Gen. Stuart Peach, said that the undersea cable would "immediately disrupt international trade and the Internet."

Peach's warning echoed the conclusion of a 2017 report by British parliament member Rishi Sunak that described the possibility of disrupting Internet traffic as "an existential threat". Sunak says global Internet-connected fiber optic cables are largely owned and operated by private companies and they are still responsible for transmitting financial transaction information worth up to $ 10 trillion each. day.

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Cable cuts cause disruption to the Internet connection frequently. For example, a US Department of Homeland Security report published in 2010 said that in 2008, three fiber optic cables located in the Mediterranean from Italy to Egypt were broken, possibly due to anchors. causing 80% of Internet connections between Europe and the Middle East to be temporarily unavailable. As a result, most of the US Air Force drones in Iraq at that time had to cease operations due to the lack of high reliability and this was considered a threat to US national security interests.

In 2015, the New York Times reported that a Russian spy ship, Yantar, was monitored by US aircraft, satellites and warships as it moved slowly down the east coast of the United States, near where it was located. marine cable system. The ship is believed to be equipped with two small submersibles that can dive into deep water to cut cables. Another Russian spy ship, Viktor Leonov, was also spotted moving off Delaware in February.

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However, before worrying about an Internet scenario that suddenly "turned off the power" due to underground sabotage, experts said that the undersea cable system is less protected but actually very durable and not easy to a hostile state or a terrorist group attacks neutralized. In fact, the fiber optic cables responsible for transmitting data worldwide are in fact very thin, less than 17 mm thick. However, they are wrapped in a closed tube with many layers of bearing steel wire, copper and polyethylene. For ropes located in shallower water areas, which often face the risk of being cut by anchors or other artificial hazards, they are often supplemented with protective armor. There are also submarine cable systems.

Keith Schofield, manager of the international cable protection association, said that each year, the sea optic cable system is damaged about 200 times – "a very small rate of damage compared to the submarine cable network when extended. up to more than 1 million kilometers connected between multiple continents, "Schofield said.

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Jim Hayes, president of the California Cable Association, said that it was not easy to cut a fiber optic cable line under the deep sea, only a submersible with a robotic arm and the right tools could cut it. . The undersea network is more vulnerable when it is near the shore, in shallow, accessible water. At this time, there is no need for specialized tools or professional knowledge, vandalism if desired to break the cable easily. Hayes said: "You just need to rent an old fishing boat, attach a big anchor and ask people to pull the anchor to the cable line."

Location is the key to survival!

Attacks on a nearshore cable line may not cause significant disruption in the United States or in advanced technology countries in Europe and East Asia because these countries have a multitude of cable lines to ensure protection. Large and smooth data transmission bridge. Hayes said: "Vandals can slow down Internet connections in New York but can't cut them. There are other cables that lead to the same location so they can easily change direction, instead of transmitting along. west, then east. The Internet works this way. "

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However, vandalism can cause disconnection in areas such as the Middle East where fewer cables are located, located in places like the Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz. Africa, with its very long coastline, is also dependent on two main cable routes and a very high level of vulnerability.

According to Nicole Starosielski, an assistant professor of communications, culture and telecommunications at New York University, "You can disrupt the Internet for a long time, but with just a few forms of attacks and places. In other places, traffic can be easily rerouted. "

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