News / Science & Technology

Sabotage Threat to Undersea Cables is Overblown

Undersea fiber optic cables carry the bulk of intercontinental Internet traffic. (Courtesy Telegeography.com)
Undersea fiber optic cables carry the bulk of intercontinental Internet traffic. (Courtesy Telegeography.com)
The recent arrest of three men diving near a damaged undersea fiber optic cable off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt and damage to another nearby cable a week earlier led to a flurry of speculation that the network of cables carrying the bulk of the world’s internet traffic could be at risk of sabotage.

But those who operate the cables, as well as those who monitor the industry, say such speculation is overblown.

“I don’t expect to see a rash of sabotage,” said Mark Simpson, the CEO of SEACOM, which owns the SEACOM cable system, including fibre pairs on the Telecom Egypt North cable that was cut by a ship's anchor in the Mediterranean Sea on March 22. “It’s not the kind of thing that keeps people like me awake at night.”

SEACOM is also an owner and user of capacity on many other systems in Africa and the Middle East including the South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe (SEA-ME-WE) 4 near which the divers were arrested late last month.

Julian Rawle, a managing partner at Pioneer Consulting, and an expert on the submarine fiber optic cable industry, said sabotage such as terrorist attack on a subsea cable is a “little bit far-fetched.”

Tim Stronge, a researcher with Telegeography, a telecommunications market research and consulting firm, said “as far as I know, there has never been a deliberate case of sabotage of an undersea fiber optic cable.”

Rawle added that because of increased redundancy, cutting one cable probably wouldn’t cause a dramatic and widespread outage. He said $1.3 billion is invested in new cables every year, which translates to roughly 20 to 30 short, medium and long-haul cables installed annually.

According to Stronge, even though the pace of increasing global bandwidth has slowed in recent years, “the growth is still tremendous,” with the world’s international bandwidth having doubled between 2010 and 2012, he said.

When there are disruptions, Rawle said, people in an affected area might notice Internet slowness or even a brief blackout. But he added that most operators have agreements with other operators, which allow them to temporarily shift traffic onto undamaged cables. He said the amount of time to make those switches can be as little as a few seconds.

While sabotage is not a big worry to those in the undersea fiber optic cable industry, the cables are vulnerable to ship’s anchors, fishing nets, fishing equipment and natural disasters, particularly earthquakes.

Rawle said the security of the network is “something on every cable operator’s mind 24/7.”

“When it goes down, they lose customers,” he said. “It’s the number one priority.”

According to Simpson, there are many things cable operators do to minimize the chance for damage, including armoring them with steel, especially near the shore. Where the cables make landfall, he said they are protected by concrete encasements.

To lessen the chances of damage by a dragging anchor, he said industry works with local port authorities and tries to keep cables away from shipping channels when possible. In especially vulnerable areas, the cables are sometimes buried and even run through rocks as further protection.

The shipping and fishing industries are regularly made aware of new cables, he said, and in some ports, ships are monitored via a tracking system and warned away when they approach a cable, especially if they are slowing down and give the appearance that they might drop anchor.

Simpson added that when there are incidents such as the recent ones near Egypt, industry will come together to try to agree on better ways to protect the cables.

One possible example, according to Rawle, is to try to avoid the bottleneck in the Red Sea and Suez Canal.

“In recent times, people have built alternative terrestrial routes through the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey, Iran, and Russia, he said. “People are looking at alternate routes around Africa as alternative to Suez” because, he said, the political situation in Egypt is causing operators to reconsider running cables through it.

Stronge added that with regard to Egypt and fiber optic cables, there are “a lot of eggs in that one basket.”

You May Like

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid