The Mysteries Of Fiber Optic Cables Cut Last Spring Remain Unsolved (And Here’s Why They Should Be Concerned)
Internet cables were severed in Paris on the night of April 27.
©BERTRAND LANGLOIS v AFP
Strategic Internet cables were severed in the Paris region on the night of April 27. This incident had disrupted internet connectivity in several regions of France.
Atlantico: On the night of April 27, several internet cables were severed in Paris. To what extent is it a recurring phenomenon? Are these acts on the rise? Is a militant act credible ?
Thierry Berthier: Since 2020, acts of sabotage of telecommunications infrastructure, television masts, 3G, 4G or 5G antennas on national territory have increased sharply. This phenomenon worries the authorities and forces them to reconsider the safety of the affected sites. No region is spared from these acts of vandalism. For example, in Limoges in 2021, a large television, radio and 3G relay tower was set on fire, depriving 1.5 million people of radio and television. The day after the act of sabotage (January 12, 2021), the “Committee for the abolition of 5G and its world” (CLA5GSM) complained about the fire at the Cars relay in an email to the daily newspaper Le Popular in the center. “The sabotage of the antenna of the car” took place as part of the operation “Voice of the Wind and Song of the Birds”. Several complaints were filed and the perpetrators have now been identified. The attack on the Cars relay is an emblematic case, since there was no 5G antenna on the burned-out relay tower … Internet cable cutting operations are also increasing, with an increase in the organization of coordinated actions: attackers choose their targets and make up their minds then for cutting internet cables in multiple geographic areas at once to maximize the impact and impact of sabotage. Increasingly, these are “militant” actions organized by activist groups of “degrowthist” ecologists who reject entire sectors of technological advances.
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In fact, there are three types of attacks on physical telecom infrastructure (relays, cables):
- “Cruel” attacks related to the theft and resale of materials: copper, metals, fiber optics, electrical and radio components.
- Attacks related to anti-technology, anti-5G and anti-internet activism that can be carried out by radicalized environmental groups, by degrowth and digital sobriety activists. These operations are not always claimed.
- Attacks, which are much rarer, don’t fall into the first two categories. This can be comprehensive tests of the resilience of a telecommunications infrastructure or rehearsals before a coordinated attack on a larger scale. If the cables cut voluntarily are submarine cables, it may be a military or government operation.
The proliferation of acts of sabotage by “degrowthist” activist groups must be taken very seriously given the damage sustained.
Does this mean that our infrastructures are actually relatively at the mercy of saboteurs? Could these kinds of relatively “small” actions cause major disruption?
In a way, these infrastructures are vulnerable as they are easily accessible in boxes buried in the ground. It is therefore very easy for a motivated team to visit these boxes to cut the cables. Many television or telecom relays do not have permanent surveillance. They are therefore also vulnerable to a fire attack.
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We can no longer rule out the hypothesis of a large-scale coordinated attack mobilizing multiple groups of activists spread across different regions and targeting large cables. The simultaneity of the cuts could cause a widespread outage with significant impact and collateral damage. The cost of such a coordinated attack would then be difficult to estimate. There is no absolute answer to counteract this type of attack. We can try to make the crates harder to open. They can also be equipped with intelligent opening detection systems, but the best approach is undoubtedly the pre-identification of groups of saboteurs or their arrest red-handed.
How vulnerable are we in this area? Can anything be done about this vulnerability?
The hyper-connectivity of systems is our strength and our weakness. Our data goes through the internet cables. The online services that we use every day depend on the physical infrastructure (Physical Layer #1 in the OSI model):
Securing the physical layer (including cables) remains a complex issue. The security of large submarine transoceanic cables is a major strategic challenge that can be solved with autonomous robotics and underwater surveillance drones. The security of terrestrial cables and Internet backbones is a priority. Threat awareness will soon be able to rely on autonomous robotic inspection systems to detect attacks and generate alerts. Finally, identifying small groups of operatives who are likely to take action must become a priority for security forces.