Many people thought the Cyberbunker attack was impressive, a massive spam attack that clogged up the internet with a mind-boggling 300 gigabits per second. But at the same time, another cyberattack took place in a different part of the world, one which threatened to cut off an entire continent from the internet – a connection equaling 1.28 terabits of information. But what’s especially impressive about it is that the men who attempted this relied on nothing more than an axe.
Yes, according to the Egyptian coastguard, three men were intercepted off the coast of Alexandria a few weeks ago who were attempting to sever the SEA-ME-WE 4 undersea cable with an axe. This cable is one of the main connections between Asia and Europe, running from France to Malaysia and linking Italy, north Africa, the middle east and south Asia. Though the identities and motives of the men have not yet been released, Egyptian authorities were clear that they were getting to the bottom of it.
Though unsuccessful, this recent attempt at info-terrorism is a startling reminder that the internet is not the ethereal thing, and still depends upon real, physical connections. With the expansion in recent years of wireless networks and cloud computing, people seem to have forgotten this very thing. For the most part, nations and continents are connected thanks to thousands of underground and undersea cables which are quite vulnerable to sabotage and natural hazards.
And while most big countries have several redundant cables running to their shores, the loss of even a single one means that all the traffic must be jammed through remaining connections, causing congestion. And there is nothing to stop determined attackers from targeting several cables at once. Indeed, since many cables go through geographic chokepoints like the Suez, it wouldn’t be difficult to disrupt a whole bunch of connections in a brief period of time.
Worse yet, this last attack seems to be one of many such attacks targeting cables running to the coast of Egypt last month. Several cables were reported severed during the last week of March, and authorities initially suspected it was the result of shipping. The cables were part of the Seacom, a network of cables that serve much of Africa, the Persian Gulf and India.
This latest attack seems to establish that this is a part of a pattern designed to cut Egypt off from the internet, which in many ways mirrors a series of incidents that took place back in 2008. The damage has since been repaired, but given recent events in the country, one has to wonder what agenda could be behind it all.
The most obvious possibilities include radical elements that want to cut off Egypt from foreign influence, or pro-government, pro-conservative elements that want to sever support for pro-democratic and opposition groups abroad. The success of the Arab Spring in Egypt was due in no small part to a number of social media campaigns that channeled support to the Eyptian people. Perhaps someone wants to avoid a similar situation in the future…
Difficult to say. What seems most important though is the example this could set for extremists in other parts of the world. As the map above demonstrates, there are many fiber optics networks worldwide, and many of them pass through territory which could be easily accessed by terrorists or those looking to shut down the world wide web. Considering the effect this could have on the global economy, not to mention on geopolitical relations, it’s something to be on the lookout for!