The cable cuts: Get out the foil hats

by Mathew on February 6, 2008 · 10 comments

I’ve been watching the “undersea cable-cut conspiracy” gathering steam over the past few days, and it’s almost comical to see some of the hoops people will jump through to suggest — with all kinds of provisos and assurances, of course — that there is something mysterious going on. So I’m glad to see that saner heads are prevailing in some posts, in particular one from O’Reilly that quotes a passage from Neal Stephenson’s piece in Wired magazine about undersea dangers.

It sometimes seems as though every force of nature, every flaw in the human character, and every biological organism on the planet is engaged in a competition to see which can sever the most cables.

The Museum of Submarine Telegraphy in Porthcurno, England, has a display of wrecked cables [and] each is labeled with its cause of failure, some of which sound dramatic, some cryptic, some both: trawler maul, spewed core, intermittent disconnection, strained core, teredo worms, crab’s nest, perished core, fish bite.

Robert Graham at a site called Errata Security is also pounding the “no conspiracy” drum, and points to security expert Bruce Schneier’s blog as one of those muttering darkly about how all of these cuts just have to be more than a coincidence. But as Robert notes, the reports of something dastardly at work mostly just highlight what he calls:

the human psychology of computer security: people are apt to see patterns where none exist. Outages in undersea cables are a common occurrence. They usually go unreported. However, once a major outage is reported, minor outages that would normally be ignored now become reported as well.

As it turns out, the reports that Iran was completely cut off were false. And at least one of the “cuts” (which makes it sound like Dr. Evil sent sharks with frickin’ lasers to destroy Iran’s Internet access) appears to not be a cut at all, but a previous repair that failed. As the O’Reilly piece points out, this may say something about how much of our access to broadband depends on a relatively small number of cables, but it doesn’t say much other than that, unless your tinfoil hat is on too tight.

  • http://www.messagingtimes.com Tom O'Leary

    I agree, as much as I would like to climb aboard some exciting conspiracy ship and take a joy ride. Unless efforts to resolve the outages are made unusually difficult by some strange, internationally curious events/entities, then we should resist the urge to swim with the conspiracist fishes and admit that sometimes shit just happens.

  • http://www.messagingtimes.com Tom O'Leary

    …now the Apollo moon landing; that's a different kettle of smelly fish ;-)

  • http://radar.oreilly.com/jesse/ Jesse Robbins

    Mathew,

    Thank you for understanding the nuance in this situation and for helping spread the word. It's amazing how much steam this built up in such a short amount of time. After I made my first post on Saturday, I followed it up with a conspiracy post because I find these sorts of things are both interesting and possible. However I ended up editing it once the the reverb in the echo-chamber reached critical mass. It is particularly irritating that the digg and slashdot posts weren't meaningfully corrected once it was clear that the “iran is off the internet” headline simply wasn't true. If there is a conspiracy it's for website hits.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Totally, Tom. That goes without saying.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Yeah, I would have to agree, Jesse. Let's face it, headlines about
    entire countries getting cut off and dark theories about evil empires
    make for better traffic than stories about how there's no conspiracy.

  • http://www.messagingtimes.com Tom O'Leary

    For better or for worse, after all of the 'confusion' about our reasons for occupying Iraq, it doesn't surprise me that more people do become suspicious about government activity in general today, both at home and abroad.

  • Mark Hesman

    Best theory I've seen so far was proposed by Digital Daily (tongue in cheek, of course): Architeuthis TCP/IP.

    http://digitaldaily.allthingsd.com/20080206/dam

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    That's hilarious, Mark. Thanks for the link.

  • Mark Hesman

    Best theory I've seen so far was proposed by Digital Daily (tongue in cheek, of course): Architeuthis TCP/IP.

    http://digitaldaily.allthingsd.com/20080206/dam

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    That's hilarious, Mark. Thanks for the link.

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