Scuba-diving saboteurs caught trying to cut internet

The Egyptian coastguard has apprehended three scuba divers in the act of attempting to cut a major underwater telecommunications cable off the coast of Alexandria.
"Marine forces today successfully foiled an attempt by three divers while they were cutting a submarine cable for internet connection belonging to Egypt Telecom," coastguard spokesman Ahmed Mohammed Ali said in a statement quoted by news website Al Arabiya.
The attempted act of sabotage is a sign that criminals or even terrorists are becoming all too aware of the economic damage they can do by attacking the world's subsea cables.
The alleged cable cutters were caught on a speeding fishing boat just off the port city of Alexandria. While their motives - and indeed their degree of cable-cutting success - are unclear, local subsea cable operator Seacom has been reporting cable breaks and internet service outages in the last week, affecting trans-Mediterranean lines from Europe to Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
The news highlights issues raised in a 2010 report by the IEEE, which suggested that urgent international action was needed to rid the global submarine cable network of its many vulnerable "choke points". It said that diversifying the deep-sea cable routes on which the internet and telephony depends would bolster the network's chances of surviving attacks by saboteurs, pirates and cable thieves.
The major choke points - where cables come together after traversing oceans - are in the Strait of Malacca near Singapore, the Luzon Strait between Taiwan and the Philippines, and the Suez Canal. Even optical fibres have valuable metal shielding, making cables a target for cable thieves, just as copper cables are on land. Ships' anchors and fishing nets drag cables up and snap them, too, and this was responsible for most of Asia's internet outages between 2000 and 2009, the IEEE report said.
A fresh concern is that the highly specialised cable ships used to lay cables and fix broken ones could also be hijacked by pirates off places like Somalia - seriously delaying attempts to fix severed lines. And with new subsea cables recently laid into East Africa, that could have a damaging effect on the continent's adoption of wired technologies.

By Paul Marks

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