[LINK] Cable cutter nutters chase underwater conspiracies
brd at iimetro.com.au
Fri Feb 8 09:46:17 EST 2008
Cable cutter nutters chase underwater conspiracies
Plumbing the depths
By Dan Goodin in San Francisco
Published Thursday 7th February 2008 01:57 GMT
The failure of four undersea cables in less than a week is stoking
suspicions that saboteurs want to disrupt internet traffic passing
between Europe and the Middle East. But there's little more than
suspicions to work with since no one has yet to even reach the damaged
The first two failures occurred last Wednesday when fiber-optic cables
connecting Europe with Egypt were sliced. Telecom representatives
initially blamed the outages on damage from ships that were in the area.
Egyptian government officials later said there had been no ships in the
area at the time of the cuts and that the space, in fact, was off limits.
As a result, Egypt at one point lost about 70 per cent of its traffic to
the outside internet. Connectivity in India was also noticeably
affected, according to reports. Connectivity in the regions has since
improved as traffic has been rerouted.
More recently, two additional cables have failed. One of them travels
between the Qatari island of Haloul and the United Arab Emirates island
of Das. The other passed between the UAE and Oman. For a while, there
were reports the outages knocked Iran off the internet. In fact, the
country's connectivity remained relatively unscathed.
These latter outages, it turns out, have caused fewer disruptions
because one cable carried more regional traffic and the other, a
redundant, "self-healing" strand of fiber allowed the cable to continue
to function, just not at full capacity. And as it turns out, the outage
in the cable linking Qatar and the UAE was caused by problems related to
a power failure, rather than a cut, according TeleGeography, a firm that
provides research and consulting services to underseas cable operators.
The much bigger effect has been the fodder the unlikely number of
failures have had on internet bloggers, who have attributed the downing
of the lines to the actions of everyone from Al Qaeda to intelligence
operatives working for Israel or the US. Some have speculated the
disruption was designed to prevent Iran from bringing a new oil trading
exchange online. Others claim it's the work of cable maintenance
companies trying to create more demand for their services.
"I've seen all kinds of just crazy, crazy postings on Digg," said
Stephan Becket, a research director at TeleGeology. "It's completely
absurd speculation on the web right now and nobody really knows anything."
One post, for example
theorized a well funded operation was at work after learning expensive
cutting torches may have been used. In fact, repair crews are still
scrambling to the location of the cuts, so no one has yet seen the
Like with most conspiracy theories, we're missing a few key pieces of
the puzzle. The root cause of the three cut cables remains a mystery. At
one point, incorrect reports brought the number cut cables to five,
causing even more sober security watchers to wonder if maybe there was
something more afoot than simple error.
"It is really odd," uber-security researcher and thinker Bruce Schneier,
said of the spate of outages. "I hate to fuel conspiracy theories
because I tend not to believe them, but it would be nice to know if this
is just a really weird coincidence."
In a blog posting here
University computer science professor Steven Bellovin put it this way:
"As a security guy, I'm paranoid, but I don't understand the threat
model here. On the other hand, four accidental failures in a week is a
bit hard to swallow, too. Let's hope there will be close, open
examination of the failed parts of the cables."
According to Becket, there's nothing unusual about the number of
outages. There are about 100 cut cables every year, enough to keep a
fleet of 25 cable repair ships fully occupied. Most are caused by
fishing mishaps, but ship anchors and geological causes such as earth
quakes also play a role.
The first two cables to be knocked out were located within a few
kilometers of each other off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, making it
likely that they both suffered damage from the same event. That means
there was only one other cut.
So it looks like the tin foil-dawning contingent will have to jump on
another story to feed their conspiracy fetish. This one, it would
appear, is coming up empty.
brd at iimetro.com.au
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