‘Undersea internet cables must be better protected’

In a report, a British MP from the Conservative Party states that the submarine communication cables are not well protected against, for example, terrorists or state actors such as Russia. He wants these cables to be better protected.

On behalf of the conservative think tank Policy Exchange, Rishi Sunak has expressed his concerns about, for example, the fact that many submarine cables are often managed by private companies, so that national authorities often have no insight into the protection of the cables and often do not deal with it. There are rules regarding the law of the sea, but according to Sunak these UN rules are insufficient to give states the opportunity to act against malicious parties and, for example, to carry out boat inspections.

According to the authors of the report, the threat of sabotaging submarine cables is high, partly because the location of almost every cable is public. There are also quite a few ‘bottlenecks’ in the world where many cables are concentrated together, such as in the Luzon Strait, an important strait between Taiwan and the Philippines. According to the report, no very sophisticated means are required to sabotage cables.

Sunak mainly points to the potential threats that can emanate from terrorists and Russia. He points to a case in 2007 in which al-Qaida wanted to hit an internet exchange in Scotland, which was eventually foiled by the police. According to Sunak, Russia also has excellent experience and interest in sabotaging communication networks. The country would invest in Yantar-class patrol vessels; these ships carry two submarines that may be intended for tapping or sabotaging submarine cables.

The report contains a number of recommendations for better protection of the cables. For example, the government should work much more closely with private parties for the management and protection of the cables. Protection should also be much better regulated in national laws and international treaties. Sunak also wants special cable protection zones to be created, as is already the case in corridors near Australia and New Zealand, for example, where many cables converge. And private operators should be required to attach inexpensive sensors to the cables so that sonar frequencies are detected.

According to the report, the need for better protection is urgent as countries and companies increasingly depend on undersea Internet cables. The report states that 97 percent of global communications are routed through submarine cables. This involves 213 independent submarine cable systems comprising a total of 877,121 kilometers of fiber optic. According to Sunak, there is no adequate alternative for these cables.