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Analyst: Relax, severed Internet cables just a coincidence

Posted at 1:44 PM on February 6, 2008 by Jon Gordon (1 Comments)

The blogosphere is awash with conspiracy theorists who see the recent damage to four Internet cables in the Mideast as an act of terrorism or war. Mike Wendland of the Detroit Free Press summarizes the zeitgeist on his blog:

There's a growing uneasiness in the global Internet community over a series of crippling Internet blackouts overseas that has resulted from four cuts and disruptions to underwater cables over the past week. While no evidence of sabotage has been forthcoming, the four breaks seem to many observers to stretch the bounds of coincidence.

The cable breaks have been causing a growing buzz on tech blogs and drawing attention from conspiracy theorists, who suspect everything from information warfare to terrorism to sabotage by the United States to take out Internet connections to Iran, whose connectivity indeed has been pretty much blacked out for most of the past week.

I just got off the phone with Eric Schoonover of TeleGeograpy, a research firm that's closely following the story. His message: Relax people. These things happen.

wavLength: Some people are saying the severed cables must somehow be related. What do we know right now?

SCHOONOVER: We are confident that multiple submarine cables have been damaged in and around the Middle East in the last week now, specifically SeaWeMe-4 and Flag Europe Asia were damaged on January 30th; Falcon, which is an intra-Middle East cable that also connects to India was damaged the following day or the day after, depending on where you are in the time zone; And a fourth cable, Qatar UAE, was damaged a few days after that. The Qatar UAE cable, the rumor is the damage was in the power system rather than an underwater fault whereas the other cables seem to be cable faults, underwater. That is pretty much what we've been able to confirm. the cause of the faults, however, is still up for grabs.

The one thing to keep in mind is that these type of things do happen with some regularity. It's just that you don't hear about it in the news because typically it doesn't take down as much capacity between regions as the original fault on January 30th did.

wavLength: There are some reports that a fifth cable has been cut -- this would be a cable that deliver the Internet to Iran. Any truth in that?

SCHOONOVER: We haven't been able to find any truth in that.

wavLength: But you have heard the reports?

SCHOONOVER: Yeah, I've seen the reports online and on a few blogs. The blogs that claim that also claim Iran is offline altogether, which we know is not true.

wavLength: But Iran is experiencing some network difficulties?

SCHOONOVER: Yes, absolutely. Like the rest of the Middle East, Iran does have some network problems. However, Iran has terrestrial connectivity to surrounding countries to the north as well as redundant cable activity so in fact their outage is less than some of the surrounding countries.

wavLength: So your take on this is, these things happen? That we don't normally hear about them in the news so when there is a grouping of severed cables, it is probably coincidental, but a lot of people leap to conclusions?

SCHOONOVER: Yes, absolutely. This happened last year. I was on the phone with you last year talking about an earthquake that took out seven of eight cables connecting to Taiwan in the Luzon Strait. That was a lot more capacity down and a lot more countries affected but since there was a ready explanation nobody jumped to the conclusion that it was some sort of malicious act. This, which is less capacity in the end, I think because it was a little bit distributed in terms of the timeline, it got everybody's imagination running. I would be very surprised if there was anything other than coincidence behind it.

wavLength: One thing adding to the mystery is Egypt denies the report that a ship severed the cable in its waters.

SCHOONOVER: We did read that as well. There could be a number of other explanations including seismic that would explain the cut. The ocean is a very dynamic and corrosive environment and in terms of things that can cause cables to go bad, there are a great number of them.

Comments (1)

Just FYI, I have a Blackberry ( small one the 7105; its 2 years old) and have experienced no wireless or internet access problems in the past 24 hours...yesterday afternoon I got emails and could get online with no problems. Just to let someone know; I was not effected by the N. America 'black'berry-out!!! Linda Freeman, Rocheser, MN

Posted by Linda Freeman | February 12, 2008 7:31 AM