British Military Chief Warns Russia Could Cut NATO's Internet Connections, As Traffic For World's Top Sites Is Mysteriously Routed Via…Russia

from the probably-just-a-coincidence dept

We recently wrote about an interesting comment from Vladimir Putin’s Press Secretary that Russia had no intention of cutting itself off from the rest of the Internet. But there’s another side to the disconnection story, as this Guardian news item reveals:

Russia could pose a major threat to the UK and other Nato nations by cutting underwater cables essential for international commerce and the internet, the chief of the British defence staff, Sir Stuart Peach, has warned.

Russian ships have been regularly spotted close to the Atlantic cables that carry communications between the US and Europe and elsewhere around the world.

In other words, although Russia says it won’t cut itself off from the Internet, it could probably cut off many NATO countries. A new report, entitled “Undersea Cables: Indispensable, insecure“, emphasizes the importance and vulnerability of the underwater cables that provide much of the Internet’s global wiring:

97% of global communications and $10 trillion in daily financial transactions are transmitted not by satellites in the skies, but by cables lying deep beneath the ocean. Undersea cables are the indispensable infrastructure of our time, essential to our modern life and digital economy, yet they are inadequately protected and highly vulnerable to attack at sea and on land, from both hostile states and terrorists.

US intelligence officials have spoken of Russian submarines “aggressively operating” near Atlantic cables as part of its broader interest in unconventional methods of warfare. When Russia annexed Crimea, one of its first moves was to sever the main cable connection to the outside world.

And if there were any doubts that Russia is very interested in the world’s Internet connectivity, this recent event may help to clarify things:

Traffic sent to and from Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft was briefly routed through a previously unknown Russian Internet provider Wednesday under circumstances researchers said was suspicious and intentional.

As another story in Ars Technica reported, this is not the first time important traffic has been mysteriously routed through Russia:

large chunks of network traffic belonging to MasterCard, Visa, and more than two dozen other financial services companies were briefly routed through a Russian government-controlled telecom under unexplained circumstances that renew lingering questions about the trust and reliability of some of the most sensitive Internet communications.

These events are a reminder that the online world depends on technologies where trust is an important element. That approach is now looking increasingly shaky as nation states wage attacks not just by means of the Internet, but even against it. This may explain why Russia says it wants alternative DNS servers for the BRICS nations: they could come in quite handy if — by any chance — the rest of the Internet goes down.

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Comments on “British Military Chief Warns Russia Could Cut NATO's Internet Connections, As Traffic For World's Top Sites Is Mysteriously Routed Via…Russia”

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ralph_the_bus_driver (profile) says:

I am very sure that Russia has plans on doing exactly this. And, NATO has contingency plans and even retaliatory plans if something like this were to happen.

I am not going to worry that something along these lines may happen. There is no reason to get upset and lose sleep over something totally outside of my control. If things ever get to that point, we’re all effed anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

A lot of this is sensationalizing an event that has quite a lot of precedent. And frankly some of it is actually a good thing. Responsible carriers filter prefixes based on routing registries. Obviously these BGP announcements wouldn’t or shouldn’t have been in the registries, and so in most cases rerouting should have failed.

Whatever happened, it will have been responded to with some diligence by the respective NOC’s, and the likelyhood of it happening again in a large way is slight. It’s worth noting that competing companies in the U.S. have been perpetrating this kind of subterfuge against each other for years. It only took governments a few decades to catch up.

In regards to the claim about Mastercard and Visa… In the U.S. transaction clearing does not happen over the Internet. So presumably what they are talking about here is application layer payment systems. ie. those newfangled “pay from your phone” systems, and web stores. If those guys are concerned about state actors, they shouldn’t be passing their traffic over networks. Sorry, but every developed country snuffles data.You could practically use it is as benchmark for economic development.

In regards to undersea cable tapping. We’ve been doing that to them since at least the 1980’s. I doubt the cables are threatened. The bigger threat is posed by congressional and executive branches looking for pretexts to misbehave. Obviously we have no interest in another mass-fratricide-by-proxy like those that have gone on before. So it is imperative we put the brakes on the inevitable diversionary declarations and oaths that will soon be coming from the hill.

But it all does highlight the current technical reality. The only practical solutions is 100% crypto at layer 4, end to end, with a fully distributed peer to peer cryptographic signature based DNS.

Speech start at OSI layer 4.

Ivan says:

Re: Re: Russian amateurs

NSA & US Navy have been masters of tapping undersea cables for over half a century — the small Russian efforts now are of little consequence.

NSA monitors & data mines every major undersea cable in the world. US Navy can disable/disrupt any cable it chooses.

British military & intelligence are menial assistants to U.S. in this stuff… British concern about governments illicitly tapping cables or interfering with global internet is total hypocrisy and deception.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

….many cables don’t connect directly to U.S.
Plus, secrecy is/was easier if no cooperation was needed from private American communications companies that own the cables and associated terminals.

Western Union and AT&T always quietly played nice with U.S. Intelligence agencies — but nowadays we know most American telecommunications firms cooperate with NSA (though sometimes under court order)

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In a war with Russia, which surely will be nuclear after the first day, who cares much about the internet?

The RIAA and MPAA. If they want to remain funded and fed after a nuclear war and disconnected internet, they’ll need to convince survivors that people in those BRICS nations with their alternative DNS servers are still pirating.

Anonymous Coward says:

What would Russia gain by cutting these cables? Lots of countries have the capability to sever or spy, but few if any have motive to make such an aggressive provocation.

Why is this alarm being sounded now and by whom?

“He added that threats such as those to underwater cables meant the UK and its allies had to match the Russian navy in terms of modernising its fleet.”

So Chief Peach just wants some more money to buy fancy new boats, got it.

“A report, written by Conservative MP Rishi Sunak, cited US intelligence officials speaking about Russian submarines “aggressively operating” near Atlantic cables”

Military-industrial complex at it again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“What would Russia gain by cutting these cables?”

Perhaps the point is to make a little drama and encourage diversification of routing paths for those cables. Almost all transatlantic cables come ashore in the U.K. as far as I know.

If they want to make a beef, they should just lay their own pipe. ISP’s are pretty agnostic about who they connect up to.

Capt ICE Enforcer says:

No fear.

Don’t worry everyone. Our ISP have a beautiful and amazing defense against this. “DATA CAPS” set for 300 GB. Once Russia starts to download everyone internet they will hit this magical 300 GB limit and have their speed throttled to an amazing 14.4 KBPS speed. After all, nobody can afford the overage fees of $15 per gig after. We are SAFE.

stine (profile) says:


Every few years some unforunate sod at a Russian ISP gets an order to block $WEBSITE and in a hurried attempt, inadvertantly causes $WEBSITE to be advertised, via fucked up BGP update, via their internal router.

If they really wanted to destroy our natworks, they’d buy several dozen battery-operated Dremel’s and have 20 or 30 young wiring techs hire on in 2005. then in 2020, simply have them hack every cable off at the floor/ceiling in one huge 3am fuckyou party.

Anonymous Coward says:

Do not underestimate Russian resolve or expertise

These were *rehearsals*.

And we are far more vulnerable to these kinds of disruptions now than we were 10 or 20 years ago because we’ve shifted off reliable, robust, hard-to-hack infrastructure (like POTS lines) to inherently weak infrastructure (like VOIP). Thus when the shit hits the fan, we’re going to have difficulty even reaching each other to have conversations about how to work around the problems.

Of course, the fact that our President is Putin’s asset and refuses to enforce the legally-manadated sanctions against Russia simply aggravates this situation. It signals to them that they can do this with impunity and THAT is just as dangerous, if not more so, than any of the technical or structural weaknesses in the Internet.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


"Undersea cables are the indispensable infrastructure of our time, essential to our modern life and digital economy, yet they are inadequately protected and highly vulnerable to attack at sea and on land…"

I am trying to imagine what protection schema are available. More redundancy comes to mind, as well as more alternative pipelines, such as Satellites. Then there are the hopes for ‘low earth orbit’ plans which have both ups and downs, including a very questionable when.

Actually protecting a couple of thousand mile long, and several hundred feet deep (at least at times, its gotta come on shore someplace) series of strings seems unlikely. Boats, surface or submerged, probably won’t help much, but would do certain things for certain economies…well not whole economies but certainly some industry and certainly a country’s debt…which benefits yet another industry.

But protect? Seems as useless a notion as securing our boarders against terrorists when most of our terrorists already work for our government.

ECA (profile) says:



WOW, what a comment.

some of the biggest games and money are coming TO Russia threw the net.,,

Anyone thats seen the maps, KNOWS that the Cross ocean cables are ALL OVER THE PLACE..

And as mentioned above, THERE ARE OTHER WAYS.,.
Ask all the CABLE/TV/CELLPHONE companies..they LOVE to say they have competition, when SAT. is available..

MyNameHere (profile) says:

The internet has problems, because it was created by people who had full and complete truth with each other and never considered for a second any bad or evil intentions could be brought to bear.

Email is a perfect example. Great protocol, until you realize that it has no checks or balances in it. You can entirely, 100% face the entire header of an email, claim to be from where you are not, and entirely falsify the email. The basic email protocol is built like that.

Network routing is pretty much the same. Announce something is yours, and well, it’s yours. No checks or balances, and if your announcement gets out far enough, traffic will start to route to you even if it’s not true – until the original source re-announces and knocks your announcement off.

It’s that part that makes the internet “self healing”, but it also makes it “self harming”.

The Russians are particular good at the game. You can be sure they have also calculated exactly how many undersea cables they have to cut in order to disconnect the US from everyone else.

m4sopmod (profile) says:

Ancient Tech Masquerading as Leading Edge

The main issues with the ‘net are what also make it useful – it is an amalgamation of the lowest common denominator tech that is agreeable to all parties. The entire TCPIP suite was an antique in the 90’s, but its there so let’s patch it up instead of really fix it. And that’s just the beginning of whats going to keep being wrong until someone burns all that crap down. America needs a less vulnerable infrastructure, but how is that any different than the power grid, or the aging bridges and hiways? We may have been first at this, but later arrivals will continue to leapfrog us into extinction on nearly every front unless we are willing to be as revolutionary as it takes. Unprovoked, the US has little willpower to accomplish anything. Once provoked few countries can keep up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Holiday Hangover?

Undersea cables have been considered a top strategic military target for decades, with both the US and USSR developing capabilities to compromise them way back in the cold war days. It’s amazing that Glyn Moody seems completely unaware of this basic fact and instead treats the topic as some sort of new revelation, when it most certainly is not.

Cutting underwater cables does not even require a submarine, as cheap low-tech solutions such as a ship dragging an anchor can also be used to cut cables. The vast communication outages that happened a few years ago in the middle east during the various “Arab Spring” revolutionary uprisings were suspected of being caused by such a method.

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