Wed, Apr 15th 2009 12:18am
A story from the WSJ last week alleging that the US electricity grid and other infrastructure system had been infiltrated with malware from foreign "cyberspies" gathered a lot of buzz, though it was difficult to determine the veracity of the report. This was followed by four fiber-optic lines being cut in Northern California, disrupting internet traffic, landlines and cell phones. The two stories, in quick succession, are leading some to wonder just how vulnerable American communications networks are, either to physical or cyber attacks. As CNet notes, the fiber cuts in Northern California seem to be the result of a knowledgeable malicious actor, since the attacks managed to knock out the redundancy that's generally built into fiber networks. There's some speculation that the cuts are related to ongoing labor talks between AT&T and the union representing some 125,000 of its workers, though there's no proof of this yet. While the likelihood of physical attacks such as fiber cuts creating widespread disruption to communications networks seems a little low, given the sheer number of cuts and the coordination that would be required, last week's events stand as a reminder of the importance of building redundancy into networks, as well as the need for network providers and local officials to be prepared to respond to total network outages. Meanwhile, concern over cyber attacks remains high, even if the actual threat remains harder to quantify. Of course, the federal government has made cybersecurity a priority, but its progress thus far doesn't look too promising.
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