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Britain’s undersea internet links can be attacked

Enemy states and terrorists could have a catastrophic effect on the UK’s technology infrastructure by targeting its undersea fibre optic data cables, a new report has found.

Many of the world’s internet capables and networks are based on the seabed, connecting countries and governments globally. And damage to them is pretty common.

After all, it’s easy for ships to drag their anchors over these cables, and sea life may have an appetite for them from time to time. But they’re also a high security risk.

According to research from the Policy Exchange, state enemies and terrorist organisations could target undersea internet cables to bring down critical infrastructure.

Authored by Conservative MP Rishi Sunak of Richmond, the report explores a variety of cases where countries and criminals have tampered with undersea cables.

For instance, when Russia took control of Crimea from Ukraine, one of the first things it did was damage the region’s communications channel by cutting its undersea cables.

And in 2007, government authorities uncovered a plot by Al-Qaeda to destroy an important internet exchange in London. However, such a situation could happen again, the report claims.

Rishi Sunak MP said:  “A successful attack on the UK’s undersea cable infrastructure would be an existential threat to our security.

“Yet the exact locations of these cables are both isolated and publicly available – jugulars of the world economy which are a singularly attractive target for our enemies.

The first trans-Attlantic cable was unveiled in the mid 1800s, and installation has generally been done by private companies since. While this means governments don’t have to shell out on the cables, it can be a security risk.

They don’t have a great deal of control over privately-owned cables, and as a result, security risks can end up going unnoticed. The report makes it clear that this needs to change.

Of course, the risk isn’t only felt in the UK. American officials have also raised fears about the security of undersea internet cables, especially from Russia.

In the past, US intelligence specialists have reported cases of Russian submarines operating near Atlantic capables, which comes as Russia is switching to new forms of warfare.

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