The cable cuts: Get out the foil hats

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.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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