Undersea telcoms cables face growing risks-report

* Cable industry should be better prepared for attacks

* Failure at a major choke-point would be catastrophic

By William Maclean, Security Correspondent

LONDON, April 20 (BestGrowthStock) – Investors should urgently
diversify the web of undersea cables that serve as the world’s
information and banking arteries to address soaring demand and
piracy concerns and reduce the risk of catastrophic outages.

So says a report by a multinational research project that
calls for the building of global backup routes for the submarine
network that carries almost all international communications,
including financial transactions and Internet traffic.

The report’s main author, Karl Rauscher of the Institute of
Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), an international
professional body, told Reuters changes should be made “before
we have to learn the hard way.”

“This report is trying to have a Sept. 10 mindset, where you
actually do something about what you know on Sept. 10 to avoid a
Sept. 11 situation,” Rauscher, who was an adviser to the U.S.
government on cyber security after the Sept. 11 attacks, said.

An executive summary of the report made available to Reuters
says that the current probability of a global or regional
failure of the network is very low, but is “not zero”.

“The impact of such a failure on international security and
economic stability could be devastating…There is no sufficient
alternative back-up in the case of catastrophic loss of regional
or global connectivity.”

WITHOUT CABLES, MARKETS WOULD “FREEZE”

“Satellites cannot handle the volume of traffic — the
available capacity is not even close,” the report says.

“It is unclear if civilization can recover from the failure
of a technology that has been so rapidly adopted without a
backup plan … Without (the network), the world’s economic
financial market would immediately freeze.”

The project, managed by the IEEE and the EastWest Institute
think tank, cites the “cable-dense” Luzon Strait south of
Taiwan, the Strait of Malacca and the Red Sea among several
“chokepoints” that funnel important cable paths together.

“A single disaster in such an area could cause catastrophic
loss of regional and global connectivity,” the report says.

“Insatiable thirst for bandwidth is accompanied by an
ever-growing dependence on inter-continental communications,
which are nearly entirely supported by undersea cables.”

The study said it taken account of numerous trends including
skyrocketing bandwidth demand, increased piracy on the high seas
and “growing concerns of terrorist activity worldwide.”

“Increased hostile activity around the world requires the
undersea communications cable industry to enhance its
preparedness for attacks on its specialized cable ships and
critical infrastructure,” it said.

Recent failures include breaks in three submarine cables
linking Europe and the Middle East, which disrupted Internet and
international telephone services in parts of the Middle East and
South Asia in Dec. 2008.

DEPENDENCE HAS GROWN

In Jan. 2008, a breakdown in an undersea cable network
disrupted Internet links to Egypt, India and Gulf Arab countries
and a Dec. 2006 earthquake off southern Taiwan hit cables and
slowed Internet and telephone traffic across parts of Asia.

The study’s concern is not so much that the reliability of
the system is declining, but that the world’s dependence has
grown so great — and on a network lacking global backup.

“What would you do without connectivity for a day, a week,
or a month?” said Rauscher, also executive director of Bell Labs
Network Reliability and Security Office of Alcatel-Lucent
(ALUA.PA: ).

Rauscher presented the report, entitled the Reliability of
Global Undersea Communications Cable Infrastructure, to 40
ambassadors in Washington on Monday and it will be studied again
at an EastWest cyber security conference in Dallas in May.

In a foreword to the report, U.S. Federal Reserve chief of
staff Steve Malphrus said the financial sector’s stability was
increasingly linked to its understanding of operational risk. He
wrote: “When communications networks go down, the financial
services sector does not grind to a halt. It snaps to a halt.”

For a factbox on undersea cables, click [ID:nLDE63F1GF]

For a factbox on the recommendations, click [ID:nLDE63J1TO]

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(Editing by Lin Noueihed)

Undersea telcoms cables face growing risks-report