Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Jack Runfola, President R&R System Solutions

For some time now there have been multiple articles and thoughts on the vulnerability of commercial submarine cable systems. However, submarine cable system vulnerability is not a new subject. In 2005, R&R System Solutions was asked to address a US Homeland Security Conference on submarine cable security. In our presentation, we addressed the vulnerability of cables and landing stations. Most of the world does not pay much attention to these cable systems, nor is most of the world informed about the type of traffic these systems carry. Without going into a lot of detail these communication systems are vital, critical in fact. These systems transport Internet services, social media, financial transactions, news, live TV events, government information and more.

Submarine communication systems are vulnerable to wide variety of damage that could interrupt their transmission. Typically, the most often cause of damage is fishing activity, anchors, natural disasters. However, deliberate damage can be caused in several ways such as cutting the cable by mechanical means or using a diver (if the diver’s life is expendable), or explosives. This will damage a single cable but not shutdown all vital traffic.

The real vulnerability lies at the landing stations. Due to practical economic reasons multiple cable systems can and do use the same landing site. This creates a cable cluster which in turn is vulnerable. Private companies employ security measures, but is this enough?

Although constructed and operated by commercial organizations should governments consider these systems as national assets? If so, then the question becomes if a landing station is sabotaged does this require a military or other government response? Serious question. Means of protection of these systems can be established in territorial waters by using various methods or defense technology but there seems to be no current international agreement on submarine system protection in international waters. The deliberate damaging of a single cable in international waters could represent harassment but not necessarily a threat. But would major damage to multiple systems in a single incident be considered for military or other government action? This is a serious question. Something to think about.