Feeds

Cable cutter nutters chase underwater conspiracies

Plumbing the depths

High performance access to file storage

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 cables.

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 Beckert, 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 damaged cables.

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 Columbia 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 Beckert, 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. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
European Court of Justice rips up Data Retention Directive
Rules 'interfering' measure to be 'invalid'
Dropbox defends fantastically badly timed Condoleezza Rice appointment
'Nothing is going to change with Dr. Rice's appointment,' file sharer promises
Bored with trading oil and gold? Why not flog some CLOUD servers?
Chicago Mercantile Exchange plans cloud spot exchange
Just what could be inside Dropbox's new 'Home For Life'?
Biz apps, messaging, photos, email, more storage – sorry, did you think there would be cake?
IT bods: How long does it take YOU to train up on new tech?
I'll leave my arrays to do the hard work, if you don't mind
Amazon reveals its Google-killing 'R3' server instances
A mega-memory instance that never forgets
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.