Networks ‘under threat from sabotage’

By:
Alan Burkitt-Gray
Published on:

Governments ‘should take action to protect subsea cables’, says UK politician

Governments should take more action to protect the world’s subsea cables against sabotage, says a new report by a UK-based think tank.

The danger comes not only from terrorism but also from military action, says the report, by Rishi Sunak, a member of the UK parliament.

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

He notes: “Undersea cables come ashore in just a few remote, coastal locations. These landing sites are critical national infrastructure but often have minimal protection, making them vulnerable to terrorism. A foiled Al-Qaeda plot to destroy a key London internet exchange in 2007 illustrates the credibility of the threat.”

The 48-page report, from Policy Exchange, is endorsed by three senior figures from the security world: retired US Admiral James Stavridis, a former Nato supreme allied commander; Robert Hannigan, who was director of UK communications espionage agency GCHQ; and former UK chief of defence staff General Nicholas Houghton.

Stavridis warns in his foreword: “We have allowed this vital infrastructure of undersea cables to grow increasingly vulnerable. … Cables are isolated in the midst of the oceans, their locations are known, and they are often subject to only minimal security at on-shore landing sites.”

He adds: “The technical capabilities required to damage cables are relatively low and unsophisticated.”

Sunak calls on the UK government to “lead efforts to develop a new international treaty to protect undersea cables”. But he also calls for the UK to “work with private communications companies to install more backup ‘dark cables’ and improve monitoring at sea” and says the UK’s “Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure should quickly review and improve security at UK landing sites where cables come ashore”.