The internet sabotage rumors have been invigorated when a UN official told the AFP:

“We do not want to preempt the results of ongoing investigations, but we do not rule out that a deliberate act of sabotage caused the damage to the undersea cables over two weeks ago,” the UN agency’s head of development, Sami al-Murshed, told AFP.

He was referring to five internet underseas cable cuts that caused outages in North Africa and the Middle East last month.

Of course, within hours, his remarks on the obvious were being rephrased as ”

Sea cable snappage was sabotage

Middle eastern cables destroyed deliberately”

on a UK tabloid the Inquirer.

Everyone just loves conspiracy theories, but often it is not because of true security concerns, but because such theories confirm their paranoia.

So various rumors said thatth US cut the cable to isolate Iran prior to an invasion, never mind that the Iranian cable companies quickly diverted traffic overseas via Turkey.

And those worried about terrorism wondered if the cuts were due to AlQaeda and friends, never mind that most of the US military communicates via a separate satellite internet, and that even many soldiers use routine satellite cable connections for email.

The possibility that a lost sea anchor hit one cable off of Egypt makes sense, but two? That’s why many wonder about sabotage. Yet to cut such a cable deliberatly  would require a submarine and knowledge where the cable lay, and if this was sabotage it would mean complicity by a major country. But what country would cut a cable off of Egypt that mainly affected Egypt but slowed down business traffic from the Middle East as far as India?
Wired magazine blog however is more skeptical, quoting several security experts in saying that they too were suspicious, but that so far only ordinary accidents were felt to be the cause.

The Christian Science Monitor has it’s usual thoughtful analysis HERE, noting that cutting cables has been a historical approach to enemy. They point out that the internet is run by international companies, but that after this latest outage (and after the six week Asian shutdown of the cable following an earthquake last year) that internet security experts are wondering if governments should become involved in the maintenance of such cables.

Underseas cables that span thousands of miles are essentially impossible to secure.
Communications for companies and countries are necessary in today’s world. The fact that those of us in East Asia lost internet access for six weeks in December 2006 and early 2007 when a major internet cable was cut by an earthquake, and the more recent multiple breaks of smaller cables make security experts worry. All this makes one wonder if alternative internet connections via satellites would be a good alternative to businesses in Asia.

Yet satellites have their own problems. In 2005, two satellites carrying telecommunications traffic for the entire Pacific region went off line, affecting both internet and telephone communications to many isolated Pacific islands. The reason was presumed to be an “electrical disturbance”, presumably a solar storm.

Communications satellites can also be shot down, as China has shown and the US plans to do with another errant satellite later this week. And there are rumors of microwave and electron beam weapons that could do the same.

As for internet sabotage: why go to all that time and effort when a simple virus will do the trick? After all, if a mischevious Pinoy college student did billions of dollars of damage with the “love bug” computer virus, and more sophisticated viruses are being released every day.

So how should people communicate in emergencies when sophisticated equipment breaks down?

Well, the old but reliablees us with HAM radios might be an alternative, and the military could go back to using carrier pigeons.

The first uses short wave, meaning it is also vulnerable to jamming and solar storms, and the second is vulnerable to Birdflu and West Nile Virus.

Hmmm….maybe Smokesignals would work….


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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