Words beneath the waves Part 2
Iran has lost Internet connectivity as another undersea cable is cut. (Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds) A few days ago Egypt and much of the Middle East lost comms as two cables were cut by what was thought to be a poorly anchored ship, an incident analyzed in detail in Words beneath the waves.
It's a little appreciated fact that the world is critically dependent on undersea cables. The information flows of the world go largely through high capacity fiber optic routes under the seas. These cables are also easily interdicted. The technology to harm them is a century old. During the First World War British cable ships pulled up all of Germany's cables. The German navy retaliated by using U-boats with special grapples to yank out British cables in the shallows near the cable landings. The principle difficulty lay in keeping station over a definite spot.
Cable outages happen routinely, due to shifts in the ocean floor, abrasion on corals or anchoring accidents. But there is normally enough spare capacity in the world cable system to re-route comms while the cable repair ships fix the breaks. Just how dependent the world ultimately is on this fleet of ships is often unrealized.
In a real wartime situation, the power with a command of the seas can fix their breaks. The British made good the damage the German U-boats inflicted on their cables. But the Germans, because they could not send cable repair ships to mend their comms, could not. By the end of the war the British had actually stolen the entire German cabling system and redeployed it.
It's highly likely that the three outages are simply due to a run of bad luck. But they are reminder of how vulnerable the arteries of the information economy are.
(Note: the link to the Internet monitoring site for Iran will reflect changes as the cable is repaired. At the time of this posting Iran's packet loss is 100 percent.)