How safe are internet cables?

Last week, four main undersea internet communications cables were cut, causing mayhem for millions of web and phone users across the world. This has sparked questions about how safe the internet communications network is.

Sabotage has been ruled out by telecoms experts but the question about what damaged the cables has still not been answered, the International Herald Tribune (IHT) reports.

An early theory that the cables may have been cut by a ship passing by were quickly dismissed, and wear and tear has also been ruled out due to the relatively new cables.

"This has been an eye-opener for us, and everyone in the telecom industry worldwide," Colonel R.S. Parihar, the secretary of the Internet Service Providers Association of India, told the IHT.

Not protected

Even if it looks like it wasn’t sabotage this time, “what if it is tomorrow?" Parihar asked. He pointed to the fact that internet and phone network cables are owned by private firms, and no one from a governmental or military level is protecting them.

Communications in the Middle East and India were worst hit by the cut cables, with Europe and the US also experiencing slower connection speeds.

Alan Mauldin, research director with TeleGeography Research, called for cable routes to be diversified. Currently, cable networks have many hotspots where many cables run alongside, leaving them vulnerable to natural catastrophes and sabotage, he told the IHT.

Undersea cables carry about 95 per cent of the world's telephone and web traffic, according to data from the International Cable Protection Committee. This is due to information travelling faster and at less cost under the ocean than it does via satellite.