Broadband

Three undersea cables cut in a week: Just bad luck?


Not one, but three, undersea cables have been cut in the past week!

Flag Telecom's Europe-Asia and the SEA-ME-WE-4 cables were cut 8.3 KM outside of Alexandria at 0800 GMT on the 30th January causing severe disruption to networks around the world. Some reports suggest that the cables were severed by a ship trying to moor off the coast of Egypt in bad weather, but this would seem to be speculation. Neither of the companies who own the fibre optic cables have given an official statement on the cause although the Dubai-based Khaleej Times reported that the damage "was not caused by ships." On-shore video footage of the area is reported to show no ships in the area for twelve hours before or after the break -- dare I read between the lines and ask what about a submarine? As if having two fibre optic backbones taken out wasn't enough, a third was announced ‘cut' at 0559 GMT on the 1st of February. The FALCON cable (also owned by India's Flag Telecom) connects India to several countries in the Persian Gulf. The cut is located 56 KM from Dubai along a segment connecting the United Arab Emirates with Oman.

Needless to say, these three outages wreaked havoc with intercontinental communications. It's reported that Indian Internet users have suffered up to a 60% loss in bandwidth -- that's bad news considering how much outsourced activity is reliant on the Internet and undersea cables to deliver both voice and data services. Following the third break, Omar Sultan, chief executive of Dubai's second largest ISP DU said, "The situation is critical for us in terms of congestion." I know from personal experience that communications in Dubai can be a huge challenge, so I wonder how badly this most recent upset has affected businesses.

While a large majority of networks will have been re-routed by now, the loss of such a large amount of bandwidth is bound to have an effect; after all the traffic has to go somewhere so an increase in congestion is unavoidable. It's most likely that large businesses that have high service level agreements with their network providers will be largely unaffected. Those who will be suffering the most are your average ‘home' Internet users and smaller businesses.

The fact that three of these undersea cables have been lost within such a short amount of time has sparked a lot of talk about the inherent vulnerability of these communication channels that we all take for granted. Many people don't understand how data is moved around the globe and it isn't always apparent just how much we rely on them until there's a problem.

Just how vulnerable to accidents or even terrorist attacks are these central communication channels? Should they be more heavily protected? Can we find more resilient and more cost effective alternatives?

69 comments
Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Global Warming! What else, the end has to come one day, people have been set on the end of the Earth for centuries. I think people actually feel that the end of the Earth would be better than dying, it would also allow them to follow their chosen religion without consequences of finding out they have been mislead all their lives. As overdubbed in Dark Side of The Moon: "I`m not afraid of dying, why should I be? We all got to go sometime." The end is near! Gotta make up a sign for that one I think, maybe a freakshow campaign would liven up the weekend a bit?

JCitizen
JCitizen

Yes - that would be the end of all ends! ]:)

seanferd
seanferd

"With his foot."

JCitizen
JCitizen

Hopefully no licensing restrictions on these! I'll have to adopt these soon! Yes, I got no end of amusment from the promotional antics of the teams that worked for Adult Swim networks "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" and the idiotic reaction from the Boston area law enforcement community. Humm!? Reminds me of the good ol days during slack hour at the Church of the Subgenius! I must admit - my present avatar goes with the moniker I use here. Now I got to figure out how to animate it. You suppose it would offend people with it's tiny "finger", HA! Time for somemore googling!

seanferd
seanferd

Remember when the Mooninite lighted signs caused a panic, perceived to be an unknown dangerous device? I believe it was in Boston... Edit: perhaps they would look better on a lighter background?

JCitizen
JCitizen

I don't know why that character cracks me up so much. I think it is the huge bravado from such a weak obsolete looking, mono chrome, graphic that looks like it was made on an old DOS machine. None the less a cheap lite bright panel! Would make an excellent avatar!

tonoohay
tonoohay

Michael you may like the Techie use of position warning software in ShipPlotter? No pop-quiz though! International Cable Protection Committee http://www.iscpc.org/ 2 pages show some of the major submarine "CABLESHIPS" operating in the world (see sailwx below) "Publications" has a great set of Power Point and PDF AND A 15 MINUTE VIDEO ICPC PRESS RELEASE ??? 21 March 2007 Subsea Landslide is Likely Cause of SE Asian Communications Failure http://www.iscpc.org/information/ICPC_Press_Release_Hengchun_Earthquake.pdf Ship weather reports and track maps are based on data reported via the World Meteorological Organization's Voluntary Observing Ship (VOS). http://www.sailwx.info/shiptrack/shiplocations.phtml ShipPlotter displays complete information about ships that are within VHF range of your position using the Universal Automatic Identification System (AIS). http://www.coaa.co.uk/shipplotter.htm

JCitizen
JCitizen

job as radio/electronics officer. He was responsible for ship position,weather forecast, and telecommunication/radar.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

They are far less vulnerable to such attacks than land based fiber optics are that's for damn sure! To get to land based lines, you just need to visit the local rail yard and look for the underground cable makers. The cables are not deep at all, you could dig to one in less than a minute with your bare hands. Submarine cables are far more 'secure' in that they are laid on the seabed, not floating just below the surface. The likeliness of a terrorist doing this is a bit out of whack, why not sever land based cables? The only advantage being repair time to land cables is much faster of course. But hey, here's another reason for America to invade someone, haven't seen the regular scgeduled fear tactics from Bush this week though, so perhaps they are just poorly designed links. If it WAS a terrorist attack, the target would be America. To dig up the TAT's from the Atlantic seadbed is not really in teh cards for the Taliban though. Cave dwellers, not deep sea divers. The network in oil rich Dubai is getting pretty high end these days. They have a massive wireless infrastructure, and field so many calls for North american service departments, computer support, Visa M/C etc. all come out of the area. At teh end of the day thpough, in order to affect North America, they'd have to take out our links, not the European links.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

and it would explain it a bit better, is this. The storm was to blame. Since we know that there was a powerful storm when the main ones were severed/broken, it was speculated that ships caused it. But, what if it was falling debris underwater, like large boulders falling onto the line(s)? So far ( I forgot where I saw this explanation last night), it seems to have the most credit. An earthquake would have been noted, but a few small rockslides may not. It could also easily explain the multiple breaks in multiple locations.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Tonoohay clued me into some additional information and if Tonoohay posted about it already I apologize. I found this information on ZDNet: According to the Khaleej Times online, three undersea cables have been damaged in five places in the past two weeks. The SeaMeWe-4 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-4) cable, the internet spine serving much of Asia, was damaged near Penang, and also near Alexandria, Khaleej Times reports. The FLAG Europe-Asia undersea cable was damaged near Alexandria, and also near the Dubai coast. The FALCON cable near Bandar Abbas in Iran was damaged in January. Mahesh Jaishanker, an executive director for UAE telecoms provider du, told the Khaleej Times: "The submarine cable cuts in FLAG Europe-Asia cable 8.3km away from Alexandria, Egypt and SeaMeWe-4 affected at least 60 million users in India, 12 million in Pakistan, six million in Egypt and 4.7 million in Saudi Arabia." Iran has lost internet connectivity for one router serving Tehran, according to the Internet Traffic Report site. Web monitoring firm Renesys reported on Sunday that Iran had not completely lost all connectivity, but had suffered a 20 percent loss of bandwidth. The breaks in SeaMeWe-4 and FLAG near Alexandria were initially blamed on a ships anchor being dragged across them. However, the Press Association reported on Monday that Egypt's Ministry of Communications said that no ships were present when the two marine cables were severed. Security expert Bruce Schneier wrote in his blog on Tuesday that while he had heard "no official reports of malice", that there had been so many breaks in such a short space of time seemed "an awfully big coincidence". "A fifth cut?" wrote Schneier. "What the hell is going on out there?" Just keeps getting better??

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

5 breaks on 3 lines, and a 4th line that may be power or cut related. I am jumping on the side of, too suspicious. Now I gotta hear the (BS) reason for these cuts. I am sure it will all be explained in a (ahem) very good and (cough) beleivable way. This is gonna be good.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

The termination of a fiber optic cable could never be cut,ground or polished good enough to pass digital.It's all done with satellite.

ninja
ninja

These acts are not that of God , or ships passing through the area. If you want to tap communications without being detected , you create a diversion. Cut the line , install a tap further up/down the line while your host is busy diagnosing and repairing.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

"They" are watching you! any strange vans parked outside your house? Perhaps they are preparing to capture you and insert a bug in your brain so they can monitor your important life? Maybe it's the commies comin to get ya!

JCitizen
JCitizen

or should I say outside the homeland insecurity? =)

JCitizen
JCitizen

HA!HA!..uuh...AHAAHAHA! DOH!!!

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Funny how similar the Republican administration is to McDonaldland. Run by Mayor McCheese with severe retardation issues, wonder if it was that dreaded hamburglar cutting cables again! RABBLE, RABBLE, RABBLE! Hey, why don't you vote for the Fry Guys next time around. they should be better at managing the country's money, they know how to keep their eyes on your fries. :)

johnconnor
johnconnor

It's Skynet trying to get control, testing our weaknesses. The Terminators are among us.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

Has anyone seen Arnie coming out of the ocean???

seanferd
seanferd

He gets bored...

seanferd
seanferd

They are great believers, which is why it is so difficult to ride them into the sea to board them on ships. Poseidon has a rep for getting ruthless when ignored or bored, it's true.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Poor Poseidon, no one believes in him anymore... :(

Daoudee
Daoudee

More than likely a submarine! The question is whose?

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Or is it like Monty Pythons, a GOAT! An underwater goat with flippers and a snorkel! Wonder why THEY cut, tripped over, unplugged, severed, burned, gnawed through a Euro cable and not the lifeline to US businesses operating in the region, which would be the TAT's in the Atlantic. Ooops!

JCitizen
JCitizen

enough to do that three times; and then it would because of an amaturish attempt to somehow affect commerce and the local economy. This supposing their own economy wouldn't be affected because of naval blockade.

brosnan
brosnan

Sorry, but i think "tapping" cables might offer more information to US based "companies" and also they would have the resources to play at the bottom of the sea.

JCitizen
JCitizen

as you can't tap light cable without tipping the provider off to your activities. Which is self evident by the problems this "accident" caused. I suggested that if it were espionage it would have to be more of a dumb attempt to damage service to slow business and communication in the mideast. Of course the motivation would be dumb; as in shooting one's self in the foot; but Iranian polititians haven't seemed to mind doing that publicly lately..

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Wouldn't it be easier to sever a land cable buried 8" underground in soft soil by a railroad?,

JCitizen
JCitizen

fabricated the boost signal lasers; spliced erbium fibers that have laser properties - interesting. The rest of it was exactly how I envisioned it. I guess your our deepsea expert for all things concerning IT in this area! Where's deepsand? I always figured he was a Navy man!?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Thank you for that pdf file. It was just full of neat information, I guess I have not been looking in the proper places.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I read an interesting article by a submarine cable expert. He mentioned that these cables move around a great deal more than most people expect. I was surprised at that statement. I have not been able to re-find that article to post the link, but will keep trying. He also mentioned how difficult it would be for a submarine to find these cables, but I question that. If it is so hard then how do the repair ships find the cables. I sincerely wish there was more public information on this technology. Seems like it is very proprietary and secretive.

JCitizen
JCitizen

no one can positively attribute it to Iran. Iran has several submarines in its Navy. If I remember right, Sweden sold them a diesel/electric that was totally stealth when operating in electric mode. I don't know the littoral capabilities though. But of course, this story is starting to look like standard maritime disaster, which is what I predicted already.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Since this activity is very relevant to my work, I thought it might be best to mention that the total number of cables being affected is now four. http://www.arabianbusiness.com/510132-internet-problems-continue-with-fourth-cable-break?ln=en Also there is an active thread on the forum that is providing a great deal of interesting information relative to this situation. http://techrepublic.com.com/5208-6230-0.html?forumID=102&threadID=252847

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080208/ap_on_hi_te/mideast_internet_outage Apparently the first of the cuts has been explained. By a 5.5 ton anchor. However, the explanation seems a bit 'off'. Read the link :)

seanferd
seanferd

wandering about aimlessly, looking for his Mum, trips... I like this line: "He spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with company policy." The company will give out some information as long as you know the name of the guy who actually tells you? That's like, clandestine PR, or something. Black PR. Insert oxymoron of choice here.

seanferd
seanferd

there was no stopping it!

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

was just trotting, minding its own business when it decided to tug at the first cable it ran across... Hey Wait, I thought there were 5 breaks in the first 3 lines? UPDATED STORY: after it realized that the cable was more easily cut, it trotted to some other parts of it. When it thought it saw the cable move, it had to go in for the kill, and sever it. See the Anchor was jealous that the cable was so much longer than him!

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

Someone call Bruce Willis! ***runs and hides***

moorew
moorew

Three "Cuts" in such a short period. It's terrorism Stupid...

Justin Fielding
Justin Fielding

I'd heard rumours of a fourth break but couldn't find any solid reference--thanks Michael. Dubai must really be suffering now, their connectivity can be touch-and-go at the best of times!

zlitocook
zlitocook

It seems that there can be a few countries that can benefit from the cables being disconnected. And can cause unrest in the countries affected, so they might look to other areas not affected to see why. And try to use the connection from a non affected country. It seems they need foil hats and to watch out for black opps and silent copters. Now give out the foil hats and watch for the black helicopters.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

Interesting. But if it were power related issues, why are they not able to determine this on land, and get it fixed faster?

JCitizen
JCitizen

that power could be the problem. Even SONET cable has to have a parallel power source. With the sun starting back into its eleven year cycle, why could that be a factor also. It definitely affects power companies above ground, and whether it is above, underground, or underwater is no protection from this affect. The fiber wouldn't be affected but the power cables definitly could. PhillipV may disagree: http://techrepublic.com.com/5208-6230-0.html?forumID=102&threadID=252847&messageID=2418550 But sunspot activity even affected the gas industry because it still takes electric power keep infrastructure alive to move gas also. We had to plan for it by double checking our automatic generation equipment. And even cathodic affects were evident to underground piping. Such large cosmic atmospheric flux causes large scale EMF fluctuation all over and thru the earth.

seanferd
seanferd

True. However, the the theory is that we may be in a low spot in a longer cycle. So other solar weirdness may abound. Good luck with the dotnet!

JCitizen
JCitizen

Good links good graphics seanferd! But lets see - the last solar max was in '98(I think). Add 11 years and you get 2009. I'm going from the last one I actually witnessed in '87 when the aurora lights reached all the way to Texas; and you couldn't get C band on the satellite receiver to work, half the time. We are probably coming out of the low end of the cycle. I'll read the links here pretty soon. I got a .NET disaster going on right now so I'll revisit it here in a few days. Thanks seanferd!

JCitizen
JCitizen

will have to check that out, if I get the time.

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

I know I'm late to this discussion, but though you are right that the sun is starting it's next 11 year cycle (really just depends on where you want to call a start and end) it is in a very quiet stage right now. There have been very very few sunspots this last year or two. Give it a few more years and that ac.tivity will pick up.

seanferd
seanferd

How does one determine that a cable break occurred X km out from point Y if it is actually a power failure?

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

Its gotta be the Paranha's that were genetically altered for salt water.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

A logical and responsible reaction is all fine and dandy but isn't any fun. I kinda enjoy reading the Iranian cable conspiracy theories, as bizarre and unrealistic as they may be. I think I have it pegged with the underwater goat though, or perhaps a hybrid underwater attack camel designed by the Taliban's zoologists.

GSG
GSG

There are several versions of this quote, but I like this one by someone that I can't remember. "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action."

GSG
GSG

Jaws! I think it was Jaws II where the kids were adrift on the ocean, and somehow the kids dredge up a big cable, Jaws comes after them and they shove the cable in his mouth, electrocuting him and the cable is cut, and the day (and the kids) are saved. Jaws 2008: Jaws vs. the Internet

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

With reference to power outages, I also concluded as did Seanford, that the problem was with the repeaters. There are repeaters at the appropriate interval and they need to have power and control cables that coexist with the actual fiber cable. Did they break or did the repeater have an issue? Then to have the same problem happen to several different cables is a bit odd. Lots of possible explanations. I guess the answers will have to wait until the repairs are completed.

seanferd
seanferd

I.E., They know that a particular item (repeater or something) stopped working, or what? No ships + Cable break = Sea Squirrels. Or maybe it's the Scientologists with their little navy. I am seeing now that sometimes the phrase "cable cut" is used for the general concept of "failure", at least somewhere in the reporting process.

JCitizen
JCitizen

with I assume. Scummy One says, "If it was caused by power issues, then it would seem likely that they could trace it much faster." Exactly. Of course I am talking about the power cable source and I assume this is what you refer to also. I am unfamiliar with any fiber channel tech along that line..

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

The cause of damage is not yet known, but ArabianBusiness.com has been told unofficially the problem is related to the power system and not the result of a ship's anchor cutting the cable, as is thought to be the case in the other three incidents. So it appears that 1 may not have been severed. However, 3 are still beleived to be severed. If it was caused by power issues, then it would seem likely that they could trace it much faster.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I understand that most companies are unwilling to divulge any information that may hurt their bottom line. But the complete lack of any answer is really what is fueling all of the theories, even the conspiracy theories. The big issue as I see it has been the weather, the cable breaks would have been fixed quite rapidly but the weather has been preventing that. All concern and what happened theories die relatively fast with back to normal network conditions. Hopefully, some of the more-in tune members like JCitizen may have more in-depth information about the causes. My information/interest is the results of how it is affecting my employer's NOC's and MPLS backbone in India and Egypt.

tonoohay
tonoohay

Some of the items regarding repair assets not only are affected by weather but also by usage. These vessels are dedicated assets and for them to release their current activitites is not like a cable-guy truck. Disconnecting isn't impossible, just exacting. Tracking some of the ships by location seem to indicate active work in progress so I'm curious hope the escalation process drives response priorities?

empty.bin
empty.bin

I just want to know that my literacy hasn't fallen off, that's all. Cable 'breaks' and 'cut' cables are two different things to me and neither are caused by power, as far as I can fathom. I'm not a super geek; I just speak loads of english. The media is so propelled by semantics that it's enough to inspire suspicion in anyone. If a straight answer to ANYTHING could be had there'd be far fewer "conspiracy theorists". That's learned behaviour.

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