Did The Warranties Just Run Out On Undersea Cables?

from the snapping-left-and-right dept

If you’ve never read Neal Stephenson’s epic article from Wired magazine in 1996 about the laying of undersea fiber optic cable, I highly recommend you set aside some time to do so. Just a warning: set aside a lot of time. The article is almost book length, and it’s hard to stop reading once you get into it. He goes into quite a lot of detail about FLAG, the Fiberoptic Link Around the Globe. You’ll learn quite a bit about undersea cables and FLAG, which could come in handy, because in the last week, it appears that a bunch of these undersea cables have all started experiencing problems. It started off with reports of two cut cables (one of which is FLAG’s) in the Mediterranean, with the explanation being that a boat anchor dragged across them. Yet, late Friday, reports came in of a third cut cable (also a FLAG cable) in the Persian gulf, followed by Egyptian reports denying that the cuts were caused by ships, saying none were in the area. To top that off, on Sunday, reports came in of a fourth cable with problems in the Middle East (it’s unclear if this problem is as serious as a full cut cable), causing people to start thinking up conspiracy theories. It certainly is mighty strange to have four separate undersea cables with such problems in the same region within a few days of each other. You hate to ascribe it to malice without further evidence, but unless these cables all just went off of warranty, it’s going to have a lot of folks asking similar questions.

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Comments on “Did The Warranties Just Run Out On Undersea Cables?”

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49 Comments
ECA (profile) says:

Ummmm...

OK,
THINK and THINK HARD…
1. you have a fiber optic cable, HOW DEEP do you place it.
2. DO you place WARNING BOUYS NEAR IT??
3. HOW protected “WOULD YOU” MAKE an important connection THAT you DIDNT want to REPLACE, as it would cost you MORE then DOING IT RIGHT, in the first place??
4. OK…Lets say it happens… 1 time… OK…2 times… 3 TIMES??? 4?HuhHuh?? in the SAME WEEK?Huh?

4 MAJOR fiber cables have been CUT….3 KNOWN OF, and the 4th is still NOT WORKING correctly…

Gunnar says:

Re: Ummmm...

The bouys would have to run the length of the cables…

They are mostly redundant systems. Cut a few cables and info gets re-routed without issue. It probably doesn’t cost much in the scheme of things to repair the cables.

How do you suggest they “Do it right”? It’s impossible to bury them undersea. Running redundant lines over politically unstable lands (ie, Iran and Pakistan to cover the ones that were cut recently) is prohibitively expensive. It has happened once in the x-number of years the internet has gotten to the Middle East. Not exactly a terrible track record.

I’d say this is overreacting. The other cables being cut and being newsworthy is only because the Mideast outage brought a magnifying glass to the cable cutting stories.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Ummmm...

“They are mostly redundant systems. Cut a few cables and info gets re-routed without issue. It probably doesn’t cost much in the scheme of things to repair the cables.”

You obviously have no idea what you’re talking about. Go watch a documentary about the repair crews that have to go out and find and fix the trans-continental fiber-optic cables, and then come talk to me about how difficult and expensive it is to repair cables laid out of miles and miles of ocean floor.

Furthermore, there are only so many such cables, only so many redundancies, and only so much bandwidth to go around. With 4 major cables inoperable, that is putting a very heavy load on the remaining backbone links around the world. Available bandwidth has been drastically reduced, and people and businesses alike are hurting because of it.

In any event, this is not insignificant news. While I will not believe any ridiculous conspiracy theories (unless, of course, a logical explanation does not turn up soon), the fact is that such a widespread outage is not commonplace at all. We need to find out what happened and why, and figure out how to make it never happen again. Please do us a favor, and know what you’re talking about before speaking, or typing, whichever term you prefer.

Salim Fadhley (user link) says:

Natural Activity

Is it possible to exclude all natural activity? For example could some previously undocumented tectonic phenomena cut the cables?

I heard that that US has at least one sub whose primary job is the installation of monitoring devices onto undersea cables. I’ve never fully understood how that works. Supposing you install some kind of bugging device that transparently taps the data on the fibre-optic cable, wouldn’t you need another fibre-optic cable to transport the signal to a location where the data can be analyzed?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Didn't know

Yes, they usually snag them and bring them up. The problem is how does a fishing vessel or some other boat get the cable off the anchor? It’s stretched out and tight on the anchor. Many times the only way for the ship to get free is to cut the cable.

If you’re a fishing vessel that cuts a fiber optic cable, are you going to fess up considering that most people that cause cuts get a bill for it?

That’s if the people cutting it even think about it being a fiber cable. For all they know they snagged some junk and have no idea that there is live traffic on it. Unless they pull up a repeater or something, but even then, they would be housed in protection. It would be a dirty cable of unknown origin likely without bright orange “don’t dig” stickers on it.

Mike says:

Not random

There is no rational explaination for this many cables to fail so close together, short of a major tectonic displacement, which hasn’t happened (monitored closely) these cables were cut, and I’m sure they will blame terrorists at some point. It is more likely Israel that would do such a thing, they seem to have a history of secretive attacks on information systems.

Graham says:

Re:Natural Activity

It is entirely possible that it is Israel just as much as it is possible that it is US, after all they are p*ssed that Iran is trying to start up its own oil exchange in euros this month. Disruption to networks can stop trades going ahead. Many also suspect it was the reason for going in against Iraq, the fact that they were trading all their oil in euros and not dollars.

Steve, it is not anti-Semitic to say that Israel might have done it get a grip.

Disparishun says:

hint: the same region

It certainly is mighty strange to have four separate undersea cables with such problems in the same region within a few days of each other.

Uh, no.

It would be mighty strange to have separate cables with such problems in different regions within a few days of each other.

When they’re in the same region, you look for common causes. Unusually strong winds, the resulting hefty underwater currents that perturb the cables, and more boats dropping cable-slicing anchors as a result of said winds and currents, are just a few that tend to accompany each other.

Logic is your friend. Use it.

SCUBA Diver says:

Re: hint: the same region

“Unusually strong winds, the resulting hefty underwater currents that perturb the cables…”

Nope, winds and storms only affect the top 60 feet of ocean waters (usually only the top 20 feet or so) — and winds cannot change the underlying currents (below the surface waters) at all.

While I am no expert on the way they lay out the cables in the ocean, they must be >60ft (except when coming on shore) to avoid being sliced by the keels of passing ships.

Short answer: Don’t blame the wind for something several thermoclines below the surface of the ocean.

IF it was a natural cause, most likely would be a mudslide, or other erosion caused by undersea currents, not surface wind.

chris (profile) says:

suspecting israel is not antisemitic

any time anyone says that israel might be doing something sneaky they get hit with the antisemitism stick.

israel will do anything to protect its people and its way of life, their rather bloody history is proof of that.

the mossad (the israeli version of the CIA) is one of the best trained and most active intelligence agencies in the world. their capabilities rival or may actually exceed those of the CIA or britain’s MI6, yet israel is smaller than the state of wisconsin.

there is a laundry list of black bag operations that the mossad has pulled, the bulk of which are assassinations, bombings, and air strikes.

suggesting that israel might cut a few cables is not that outlandish and is certainly not antisemitic.

one might also argue that since the cables weren’t kidnapped or assassinated, israel clearly wasn’t involved.

Bob Marley says:

I cut the cables, but I didn't cut no power supply

Yes, I admit to it. I felt the need to fire a warning shot over the bow of greedy American businesses that outsource to India. This was a piece of cake, do you think I couldn’t have shut you down completely? Send your dollars overseas so you can pay your incompetent, greedy CEOs more while screwing your hard working fellow Americans. Go ahead, you’ll regret that when your economy goes into the dumpster and the dollar is worth diddly. You’ll regret that when India finally goes to war with Pakistan. You’ll regret that when someone does take out all the cables. Your companies will die a harsh death and so will all your savings and net worth. I’m sure you’ll still feel warm and giddy though, because you’ll have secured your CEOs security at the expense of your own, your family’s, and your country’s.

Shane says:

These things happen more often than you think...

Undersea cables operate in some of the harshest conditions on earth. Given the frequent seismic events in the area I’m surprised this hasn’t happened more often. When telephone was the only service on transatlantic cables outages were frequently cause by undersea landslides, fishing trawlers, and the occasional marine animal. the mental picture of a calm sea floor does not reflect the reality. Its a very dynamic place.

Or it could just be the terrorists, terrorists, 9/11, WMDs.

Anonymous Coward says:

“saying israel might have done something is hardly anti-semitic. israel has done alot of bad things too, but according to your moron thinking, no one should say anything about anything they ever did in question since that would be anti-jewish there as well?”

Who says what Israel has done was bad? Hell, if the US didn’t hold them back, they would have done a hell of a lot more, and rightfully so.

Look at Iran today. Just because the US will probably wuss out doesn’t mean that Israel should or will.

courtney benson (user link) says:

telecommunications cables, who done it?

Good God don’t tell Alex Jones, he will have a field day with this story. He’ll start with fixing on questions like who installed those cables? – Cable & Wireless, Global Crossing (all US companies)and who owns them or leases them? He will make a whole conspiracy movie out of it. He’ll be on Coast to Coast AM to discuss it for hours. :-). Guess I’ll be sitting down to read Neil’s epic article.

wolfger (profile) says:

Speak for yourself!

You hate to ascribe it to malice without further evidence

Yeah. Like people were talking about the terrible “accident” when the first plane hit the first tower. Sorry, but sometimes it pays to be a bit paranoid and ascribe something to malice early on. While other people were wondering “how could this happen?” I was thinking “oh shit, we’re under attack. And I was right. This feels the same way, although who the attacker might be, and what their objective is, I’m not at all sure.

scared shirtless says:

Re: good nsa article

Acording to the article a disruption would be immediately noticed if the cable were compromised.So why not just take it down at one point and tap into it hundreds of miles away while it’s “down for maintenance”.I also noticed General Hayden(not just some junior grade spokesperson) downplaying NSA capabilities.He convinced me that they have trouble intercepting Morse Code.The first time I saw Hayden on TV I thought about the peaceful looking creatures in the movie Galaxy Quest that could suddenly grow fangs and become violently canabalistic.All in the name of national security.

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