Asia Times, Doug Tsuruoka
Hostile acts against submerged Internet cables would put critical communications, trillions of dollars in transactions and the world economy at risk
It’s a little-known twist in the cyber-warfare between nations that carries potentially devastating consequences. At a time when more than 95% of everything that moves on the global Internet passes through just 200 undersea fiber-optic cables, potential adversaries such as the US, Russia, China and Iran are focusing on these deep-sea information pipes as rich sources of intelligence as well as targets in war.
The weapons earmarked for the struggle include submarines, underwater drones, robots and specialized ships and divers. The new battlefield is also a gray legal zone: Current Law of the Sea conventions cover some aspects of undersea cables but not hostile acts.
There’s evidence that missions are already under way and that most big powers, including the US, are keen on engaging in such activities. Cables can also be attacked by terrorists and other non-state actors.
The damage from such hard-to-detect acts could be enormous, since a foe’s economy, in addition to military and diplomatic communications, could be blinded. As more nations exploit the Internet for political or military gain, it’s also clear that the tactical concept of undersea cables as critical assets to be attacked or defended is an idea whose time has come.
“In the most severe scenario of an all-out attack upon undersea cable infrastructure by a hostile actor the impact of connectivity loss is potentially catastrophic, but even relatively limited sabotage has the potential to cause significant economic disruption and damage,” a former commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, retired US Navy Admiral James Stavridis, wrote in the foreword to a recent report, “Undersea Cables: Indispensable, Insecure.”
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