Could Russia cut undersea communication cables?

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Media captionSir Stuart Peach: Russia poses a “brand-new risk” to economy in addition to ways of living.

The UK’s top military officer has warned in which Russia could strike a “catastrophic” blow to the economy by targeting communications in addition to internet cables in which run under the sea.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the chief of the defence staff, said the lines could potentially be cut or disrupted.

The suggestion raises several questions:

  • can be in which something Russia’s likely to do?
  • What would likely happen if they – or someone else – did such a thing?

What do the cables do?

They provide internet in addition to communications links between separate countries in addition to continents.

The full network of around 428 cables spans 683,508 miles (1.1 million km), circling the globe.

Huge quantities of data fly around under the waves, in cables filled with fibre optics – strands of glass as thin as a sheet of paper.

Unfortunately, while their technology can be reliable, these pivotal cables are physically fragile. The fibres are encased in steel wire in addition to then coasted in plastic – however many cables are still only around 3cm in diameter.

Natural disasters can damage them in addition to even a ship dropping anchor can sever a cord. in which’s happened before at the port of Alexandria in Egypt, straining connections between Europe, Africa in addition to Asia.

Why are defence chiefs worried?

The BBC’s defence correspondent, Jonathan Beale, says fears of Russia cutting, disrupting or “wire-tapping” undersea communication lines are growing.

Defence in addition to intelligence chiefs cite the country’s modernised navy, increased submarine activity in addition to willingness to use information warfare.

  • Are Russia’s military advances a problem for Nato?

Russian subs are increasingly present within the North Atlantic, particularly the GIUK Gap, a strip of ocean between Greenland, Iceland, in addition to the UK.

Air Chief Marshal Peach can be flagging up in which Britain in addition to Nato lack the subs, ships in addition to aircraft to sustain constant vigilance.

Image copyright
OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images

Image caption

Russian submarine activity has stepped up within the Atlantic, reports say

Our correspondent notes in which the UK will get brand-new Maritime Patrol Aircraft within the next decade however until then can be reliant on Nato aircraft to spot subs.

Nato’s former top military chief, Admiral James G Stavridis, can be also concerned. “We’ve allowed This particular vital infrastructure to grow increasingly vulnerable in addition to This particular should worry us all,” he said recently.

What would likely happen if the cables were cut?

Keir Giles, an expert in Russian information warfare who works with the Chatham House think tank, stresses in which This particular can be not a brand-new concern.

He thinks in which’s unlikely to happen as the economic fallout would likely also affect Russia “however in which can be definitely a scenario for which they are practising”.

in addition to if in which did happen, the damage would likely be considerable.

“The fact in which people wouldn’t be able to log on to Facebook would likely be just a tiny, tiny aspect of all the disruption in which would likely be caused if these cables were interfered with,” says Mr Giles.

“International trading in addition to financial transactions are managed across sub-sea cables. The economic impact would likely be enormous in addition to immediate.

He believes Russia can be conflict-proofing itself, “seeking to reduce its reliance on the correct functioning of the internet by setting up its own parallel systems”, in addition to rehearsing for what would likely happen if its internet connection collapsed.

Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Putin’s Russia can be frequently accused of using information warfare

Russia can be not the only nation with an interest in undersea cables. During the Cold War, for example, the US attached a recording device to a Soviet cable to learn more about the USSR’s submarine in addition to missile capabilities.

However, Mr Giles says in which’s the only state “with an intensive programme looking at ways of isolating targets through information”.

Has Russia attempted to disrupt UK cables within the past? We can’t be sure – in which’s classified.

What’s in in which for Russia?

Information control, in short.

“They are probing the vulnerabilities of civilian communications infrastructure,” Mr Giles says.

“You can’t see what they’re doing underwater. You can see what they’re doing on land or with satellites.

“What Russia learned through Crimea can be in which in order to take over communications for a target area you don’t need expensive cyber weapons, you don’t need noisy in addition to disruptive techniques like denial of service attacks.

“All you need can be physical access to the communications infrastructure in addition to telecommunications expertise embedded with your special forces.

“They’ve been looking everywhere. They’ve been looking on land within the United States, they’ve been looking on land in eastern Europe… Anywhere in which might in future be in an adversarial relationship with Russia should be concerned about This particular fixation in which they have on achieving information dominance.”

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