October 26, 2015

NY Times: “Russian Ships Near Data Cables Are Too Close for U.S. Comfort”

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News

During a recent presentation for the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity, Chris Demchak, Professor and RADM Grace M. Hopper Chair of Cybersecurity at the U.S. Naval War College, noted that one of the major vulnerabilities for the Internet lies in the international submarine cable network, the vast system of cables that make the global Internet possible.

In a story published on October 26 in the New York Times, David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt report that “Russian submarines and spy ships are aggressively operating near the vital undersea cables that carry almost all global Internet communications, raising concerns among some American military and intelligence officials that the Russians might be planning to attack those lines in times of tension or conflict.”

Indeed, while most discussions about cybersecurity focus on hardware- and software-based vulnerabilities, the potential threat of damage to the underwater cables that power the worldwide web is daunting. “The ultimate Russian hack on the United States could involve severing the fiber-optic cables at some of their hardest-to-access locations to halt the instant communications on which the West’s governments, economies and citizens have grown dependent,” the New York Times reporters explain. “Commanders and intelligence officials…report that from the North Sea to Northeast Asia and even in waters closer to American shores, they are monitoring significantly increased Russian activity along the known routes of the cables, which carry the lifeblood of global electronic communications and commerce…. [The cables] carry global business worth more than $10 trillion a day, including from financial institutions that settle transactions on them every second. Any significant disruption would cut the flow of capital. The cables also carry more than 95 percent of daily communications.”

A searchable map of the submarine cable network created by TeleGeography can be found here.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Khoo