It doesn’t take much to remind us that the internet does not live in ether, but that its backbone are physical webs of cables spanning throughout the world to keep us connected.
What it took the FBI to get involved in the investigation of eleven cases of physical attacks was the latest event in a worrying string of seemingly intentional severing of cables that led to disruptions all over the state of California, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area just over the last year.
It is hard to say whether the attacks are connected or what is the driving motive. Yet, Fremont, Berkeley, San Jose and Sacramento citizens all felt the damage caused by the physical attacks on the internet wiring in the state of California.
The latest attack took place on June 30th, when in Alameda, CA fiber-optic cables found in an underground vault were cut off. Both Internet and phone services were offline not only in Alameda but in several other cities, affecting businesses and household alike for nearly 20 hours before the reparations were completed.
While it is unclear what the motive behind these actions really is, security analysts and advisors are debating the issue. JJ Thompson, who is the CEO of Rook Security, Indianapolis, stated:
“When it’s situations that are scattered all in one geography, that raises the possibility that they are testing out capabilities, response times and impact. It’s a security person’s nightmare”.
So, before federal investigators look to the looming cohorts of Chinese hackers, attention should be turned inwards to more old-school if we will hacking. Severing infrastructure causes just as much damage as a cyber attack, if not worse.
Albeit of different scopes altogether, security concerns should prompt investigations on both physical and cyber attacks. This string of eleven attacks spanning the state of California with the San Francisco Bay Area is the work of specialized criminals it seems.
Firstly, all attacks were conducted in areas where there are no security cameras. FBI Agent Greg Wuthrich stated that all occurred indeed in remote areas and are disturbing. Specifics could not be given at the time.
Secondly, to enter heavily securitized underground vaults in order to cut off cables, one has to be equipped with highly specialized equipment. Although who might be the perpetrators be and what their motives is remains an open question.
In aiding the investigation, the FBI is urging that the public assists with any information available. According to the same FBI Agent Wuthrich, the investigation on the eleven cases has started on July 6th.
What is interesting is that not only Internet fiber-optic cables have been cut out, but phone lines and power lines as well.
This kind of physical damage can go well beyond the costs of repair. One power line cut and a whole train could easily derail, costing who knows how many lives.
Therefore, security threats seem to lie in our own backyard with the string of eleven cases throughout the state of California. Hopefully, they will be rapidly addressed by the FBI investigation.
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