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Cutting Undersea Cables?

map of undersea communications cables

We’re in heavy speculative mode. Not thinking conspiracy or act of sabotage, at least not yet, but wondering what exactly is going on in the ocean off the coast of Egypt, Dubai and the UAE. On Wednesday of last week it was revealed that first one, then two undersea cables had been “damaged” in the waters off the coast of the Alexandria, Egypt, effectively causing an internet “blackout” in parts of the Middle East. Then, on Friday, India’s Reliance Communications announced that a third cable had been rendered inoperable off the coast of the UAE. Today, news of a fourth cable being damaged off the coast of Dubai. The cables are thought to be fixable, but ships are being delayed by bad weather and an on-site situation analysis is still days away. So, what is happening? There has been media speculation about ship anchors severing the cables (seems unlikely), acts of terrorism (highly unlikely), submarines (hmmm…), seismic activity (likely), and power system failures (seems likely). I am sure we will know in the next few days what exactly has happened, but realizing how fragile our communications infrastructure is as it relates to the internet is disconcerting to say the least. Fortunately, the inherently decentralized nature of the internet has allowed for efficient workarounds to the damaged cables, but losing four cables in less than a week in geographically distant but related areas is cause for concern.

Suffice it to say that the ability to sever communications cables, like the ability to knock out satellites, would be something coveted by many, many nations.

More information , , and .

Update 1: Just read at the that the ship anchor cause for the damaged submarine cables may actually be the answer to this mystery. It seems that the bad weather stopped shipping traffic, and ships anchored in a “no parking zone” directly over the area the cables are in. Ships move while anchored, anchors drag and snag cables, cables get damaged.

Now, what about the other two cables?

Update 2: Found this of the effects of the damaged cables in the Mediterranean on data throughput. More detail as to where the cables were damaged, with one off the coast of Marseilles, France, and the other near Alexandria, Egypt. This report does not mention the other two cables off Dubai and UAE.

Update 3: I just read that yesterday, February 5th, a fifth cable in the Mediterranean has been cut. Very interesting how this story is developing.

Update 4: Turns out it was only the original four cables that were disrupted and that three of those cables are expected to be back on line within the next couple of days. I listened to a telecom/telephony expert on NPR yesterday and he made a sound argument that these events actually happen all of the time and that submarine cables are subject to a great number of potential interruptions. This is precisely why the network is distributed, diffuse and decentralized.

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