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Middle East, Asia, Algeria lose internet access after cable cuts

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  • Middle East, Asia, Algeria lose internet access after cable cuts


    January 30, 2008 -- Huge swathes of the Middle East and Asia have been left without internet access after a vital undersea cable was damaged.

    A fault in the pipeline, which runs between Sicily and Egypt, has dramatically reduced access in countries including Saudi Arabia, Dubai and India, leaving millions of workers struggling to get online.

    It is not yet clear what is wrong with the undersea cable, but the effects are already being felt across the region. Reports from the Middle East suggest that most countries are almost completely without access to the internet, while authorities in Mumbai have said that more than half of India's bandwidth has been lost.

    "There has been a 50 to 60% cut in bandwidth," Rajesh Charia, president of the Internet Service Providers' Association of India, told Reuters.

    The outage could have drastic impacts around the globe. Not only will the lack of connectivity strike the technology industry, including India's so-called Silicon City of Bangalore, but the banking industry is also likely to suffer as stock markets struggle to complete international trades.

    Despite the vast number of individuals who have access to the web, nearly all the internet's traffic is routed through a small number of cables submerged deep below the planet's sea beds.

    In 2003, net access in western Europe was hit by a fault in a cable running between the US and France, while communications in Asia were severely disrupted in 2006 by seismic activity.

    An earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale occurred off the coast of Taiwan, and damaged cables connecting South Korea, China, Japan and Singapore. As well as leaving two people dead, the outage severely reduced internet access and other communications for several days.

  • #2

    January 31, 2008 -- Large swaths of the Middle East and Southeast Asia fell into internet darkness after two major underseas fiber optic links were damaged off Egypt's coast on Wednesday.

    Early reports blamed an errant anchor for severing the cables, but THREAT LEVEL has not yet been able to confirm that's the cause.

    Telecoms in Egypt, India, Pakistan and Kuwait (among others) are scrambling to find other arrangements to carry their internet and long distance phone traffic.

    Some telecoms had complete outages since their contingency plans if one cable broke was to use the other. Seventy percent of the networks in Pakistan experienced an out, with Egypt, Malidives, Kuwait, Lebanon and Algeria also suffering severe outages, according to traffic analysis by Renesys.

    The cuts hit two fiber optic links: FLAG Europe Asia and SEA-ME-WE-4. The two cables are competitors that carry traffic from Europe through the Middle East along to Japan (and vice versa).

    FLAG runs about 17,000 miles, stretching from London, through the Suez canal, around India, along China's coast to Japan.

    When it was built, the network so impressed sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson that he wrote a 56-page article for Wired magazine's December 1996 issue.

    SEA-ME-WE-4 follows roughly the same geographic path.

    Given the desire by telecoms and broadband customers to keep costs low, situations like the current cuts will continue to happen, according to Todd Underwood, a Vice President at Renesys, which provides internet information analysis to the majority of the world's largest telecoms.

    "Part of the lesson here is that there will always be outages," Underwood said. "This is all about money - how much money do we want to pay to make sure the network doesn't go down? We are used to thinking of the internet as being a thing that goes down."

    The cost of having fully redundant back-ups connections that aren't physically near each other in chokepoints like Egypt's Suez canal is just too high for commercial operations, according to Underwood.

    "We have chosen to deal with these outages to get a much much better cost," Underwood says.

    That's not to say the outages don't have consequences.

    In December 2006, 4 major fiber optic lines were severely damaged following a major earthquake in Taiwan. Subsequent underwater mudslides damaged 9 cables laid in the Luzon Strait south of Taiwan. The cuts basically erased all eastward data routes from Southeast Asia. It took 49 days for crews on 11 giant cable-laying ships to fix all of the 21 damage points, according to the International Cable Protection Committee.

    In response, telecoms shifted business away from North America-based backbone providers like AT&T, Level 3 and Savis and towards European carriers, according to Underwood.

    But this go round, the North American carriers might gain from this outage, Underwood suggests.

    Network patterns can also physically change after a giant outage. For instance, after seeing the damage in the Taiwan earthquake, a longer, slower and more expensive route around the Philippines suddenly started to appear more attractive, according to Underwood.

    THREAT LEVEL would love to give a shout-out to the aviation fear-mongering blog Aviation Nation for hinting that this was the work of terrorists.

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    • #3

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      • #4
        hey what is it w/ drunk boat drivers, huh?

        Comment


        • #5

          NEW DELHI, February 2, 2008 (AFP) — A third undersea Internet cable has been damaged in the Middle East, adding to the disruption in online services after two other lines were cut earlier this week, the cable operating firm said.

          The Falcon cable was cut 56 kilometres (35 miles) from Dubai, between Oman and the United Arab Emirates, according to its owner, FLAG Telecom, which is part of India's Reliance Communications.

          The repair ship had been notified and was expected to arrive at the site in the next few days, the company said on its website.

          Flag Telecom owns another cable that was damaged off Egypt on Wednesday. A repair ship was expected to arrive by Tuesday to restore that cable and repairs were expected to take a week, the company said.

          The outages have disrupted business across the Middle East and South Asia, including in India, where businesses said it may take up to 15 days to return to normal.

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          • #6

            NEW DELHI, February 4, 2008: Four undersea communication cables have been cut in the past week, raising questions about the safety of the oceanic network that handles the bulk of the world's Internet and telephone traffic.

            Most telecommunications experts and cable operators say that sabotage seems unlikely, but no one knows what damaged the cables or whether the incidents were related.

            One theory - that a wayward ship traveling off course because of bad weather was responsible for cutting the first two cables last week - was dismissed by the Egyptian government over the weekend.

            No ships passed the area in the Mediterranean where the cables were located, the country's Ministry of Communications said Sunday.

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

            Today, the cause of the problem may have been an anchor, "but what if it is sabotage tomorrow?" Parihar asked.

            "These are owned by private operators, and there are no governments or armies protecting these cables."

            Most recently, a cable operated by Qatar's Q-Tel, which linked Qatar to the United Arab Emirates through the islands of Haloul and Das, was cut Friday.

            Communications in the Middle East have been hardest hit by the damage, though India, the United States and Europe also experienced slowdowns.

            Telecommunications operators have been trying to diversify the routes they can use for transmissions in recent years, said Alan Mauldin, research director with TeleGeography Research, particularly since an earthquake in Taiwan in 2006 disrupted service in Asia.

            The cable network contains "choke points" - like those off the coast of Egypt and Singapore where many cables run - and operators need to make sure their transmission routes are diversified, he said.

            Adel al Mutawa, a spokesman for Q-Tel, said Qatar was operating at about 60 percent of telephone capacity Monday, but that Internet and data transmission services were working at normal speed.

            Most telecommunications companies affected by the cuts during the past week rerouted service through other cables.

            Q-Tel will not know what caused the Qatar-UAE Submarine Cable System rupture until it sends a repair ship to pull the cable off the ocean floor, Mutawa said.

            Undersea cables carry about 95 percent of the world's telephone and Internet traffic, according to the International Cable Protection Committee, an 86-member group that works with fishing, mining and drilling companies to curb damage to submarine cables.

            Information travels faster and less expensively under the ocean than it does via satellite, and undersea cable transmission is gaining market share, the group said.

            The Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said Sunday that no ships had passed through the area in the Mediterranean where two cables, known as the Sea Me We 4 and Flag's Europe-Asia cable, were cut earlier last week.

            "The site is a restricted area, which excludes the possibility that the malfunction resulted from a crossing ship," the ministry said in a statement. Internet efficiency in Egypt has reached about 70 percent, the statement said.

            A third cable, known as Falcon, was cut Friday morning about 55 kilometers, or 35 miles, off the coast of Dubai in the Gulf. Wet, windy weather in some areas around the Gulf has shut ports and delayed ships.

            Two of the damaged cables, the Flag Europe-Asia cable and Falcon, are owned by Flag Telecom, a subsidiary of Indian conglomerate Reliance ADA Group.

            Flag Telecom has never had two cables down at the same time in the region, a spokesman, Vineet Kumar, said.

            Flag Telecom's network is one of the "newest in existence" so it would be unlikely that the cables would break because of wear and tear or age.

            Comment


            • #7
              I never thought of internet cables traveling through under sea. This is a catastrophe.
              It seems as if one fails to conceive
              The meaning my name strives to achieve

              To a biological form you cannot relate-
              Because a reproductive cell is a gamete not gamate!

              It means to unite, -to become consolidated
              So without me in a.com, is there hope we'd be amalgamated?

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              • #8

                February 7, 2008 -- When two undersea cables were damaged, apparently by ships' anchors, five miles north of Alexandria on January 30th, it seemed like a reminder of the fragility of the internet. The cables — one owned by FLAG Telecom, a subsidiary of India's Reliance Group, the other (SEA-ME-WE 4) by a consortium of 16 telecoms firms — carry almost 90% of the data traffic that goes through the Suez canal. When the connections failed, they took with them almost all internet links between Europe and the Gulf and South Asia.

                Egypt lost 70% of its internet connectivity immediately. More than half of western India's outbound capacity crashed, messing up the country's outsourcing industry. Over the next few days, as cable operators sought new routes, 75 million people from Algeria to Bangladesh saw internet links disrupted or cut off.

                But when, on February 1st, another of FLAG Telecom's cables was damaged, this time on the other side of the Arabian peninsula, west of Dubai, the story started to change. As an internet user known as spyd3rweb wrote on digg.com, “1 cable = an accident; 2 cables = a possible accident; 3 cables = deliberately sabotaged.” The conspiracy theories started to take wing.

                “We need to ponder the possibility”, declared a posting on defensetech.org, “that these cable cuts were intentional malicious acts. And even if the first incident was just an innocent but important accident, the second could well be a terrorist copycat event.” Or American villainy, said others. A user called Blakey Rat reported that “the US navy was at one point technically able to tap into undersea fibre-optic cables using a special chamber mounted on a support submarine.” A website called the Galloping Beaver asked, “where is the USS Jimmy Carter?” — a nuclear attack submarine which had apparently vanished.

                The notion that something spookier than ships' anchors was to blame gained ground when Egypt's transport ministry said it had studied video footage of the sea lanes where the cables had been, and no ships had crossed the line of the breakage for 12 hours before and after the accident (the area is, in fact, off limits to shipping). Suspicion spread when yet another cable — between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — went down on February 3rd. “Beyond the realm of coincidence!” said a user of ArabianBusiness.com.

                In fact, the fourth break was unsuspicious: the network was taken down by its operator because of a power failure. But by that time the conspiracists were in overdrive. Slashdot.org, a discussion board, said Iran had lost all internet access on February 1st. “A communications disruption can mean only one thing — invasion,” said bigdavex, quoting a line from a “Star Wars” film. Bloggers in Pakistan, having recovered from their disruption, returned with a vengeance. The broken cables, they said, forced a delay in the opening of an oil bourse in Tehran; this would have led, claimed pkpolitics.com, to the mass selling of dollars “which would have instantly crashed [the American] economy”. Marcus Salek of New World Order 101.com (nwo101.com) added that “President Putin ordered the Russian air force to take immediate action to protect the Russian nation's vital undersea cables.”

                There is just one small problem: Iran's internet connectivity was never lost. Todd Underwood and Earl Zmijewski of Renesys, an internet-monitoring firm, reported that four-fifths of the 695 networks with connections in Iran were unaffected. Most of the other theories dissolve under analysis, too. Perhaps the American navy can bug fibre-optic cables but it's not clear how. A report for the European Parliament found in 2000 that “optical-fibre cables do not leak radio frequency signals and cannot be tapped using inductive loops. [Intelligence agencies] have spent a great deal of money on research into tapping optical fibres, reportedly with little success.”

                It may be rare for several cables to go down in a week, but it can happen. Global Marine Systems, a firm that repairs marine cables, says more than 50 cables were cut or damaged in the Atlantic last year; big oceans are criss-crossed by so many cables that a single break has little impact. What was unusual about the damage in the Suez canal was that it took place at a point where two continents' traffic is borne along only three cables. More are being laid. For the moment, there is only one fair conclusion: the internet is vulnerable, in places, but getting more robust.

                Comment


                • #9
                  not so drunk after all... my dad and i were arguing about this today...

                  i don't know - it seems to me that any country that has very important info that's only accessible via the internet would use another way just in case this sort of thing happened.

                  or not *shrugs* who knows...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    March 1, 2008 -- With an increase to undersea cable damage causing Internet outages throughout Asia in recent years it comes as no surprise that a new trans-Pacific cable has been planned. The cable named "Unity" will run from Japan to the US covering an estimated 10,000 kilometers and it is estimated to be open for business in 2010. The interesting twist in an otherwise dull telecommunications story is that one of the companies funding the project is Google. Five other telecom companies, Bharti Airtel, Global Transit, KDDI, Pacnet, and SingTel will partner Google to invest $300 million in the construction of the highspeed fiber optic link.

                    Google's interest in this investment is cost price bandwidth since trans-Pacific bandwidth at present costs eight times more than on the trans-Atlantic route. According to a TeleGeography Global Bandwidth Report, trans-Pacific bandwidth demand increased 63.7% from 2002 to 2007 and is expected to double every two years from 2008 to 2013. Google is already a huge bandwidth consumer, especially with the acquisition of YouTube and the increasing popularity of online videos, all the more of which will be squeezed through the new 7.68 terabits per second pipe in a couple of years.

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                    • #11
                      Ohh my god, really!!!

                      I hope the things got fixed very soon after that.

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