Russian submarines threatening undersea cables, UK defence chief warns

Pierluigi Paganini January 09, 2022

Russian submarines threatening undersea network of undersea cables, says UK defence chief Sir Tony Radakin

UK defence chief Sir Tony Radakin warns of Russian submarines threatening the undersea network of internet cables, which are critical infrastructure of our society.

Multiple activities heavily depend on the global network of undersea cables, including financial transactions and communications.

“In the financial sector alone, undersea cables carry some $10 trillion of financial transfers daily. Reliance on submarine cables will continue to increase as demand for data is expected to grow: driven by a shift toward cloud services and the spread of 5G networks, bandwidth demand will almost double every two years in the near future.” states a report published by the CSIS.

Undersea cables allow to transfer data between countries and continents at high speeds using fiber optics. Their security is crucial and intelligence agencies are alerting their governments about possible attacks from rogues states.

Undersea cables carry over 95 percent of international data, the are considered the most cost-effective and reliable connections, the number of active cables worldwide is approximately more than 400 active cables that cover 1.3 million kilometers.

undersea cables
Source CSIS

In October 2020, allied defense ministers received a confidential report urging to address the security of transatlantic undersea cables.

NATO also highlighted the importance of the alliance to protect this critical infrastructure, but many experts argue that the level of security of these cable is still not effective to protect them.

“Indeed, in recent years, Russian attention to transatlantic undersea cables, particularly in the North Atlantic Ocean, has increased commensurately with NATO’s perception of undersea cables’ importance and vulnerability. Moscow has two primary means by which it could directly threaten the cables: submarines and surface vessels that can deploy autonomous or manned submersibles.” continues the report from CSIS.

Sir Radakin told The Times that any attempt to damage the underwater cables could be considered an “act of war.”

The chief of Britain’s army fears that the Kremlin could engage its submarines to sabotage underwater cables, he added that there had been a “phenomenal increase in Russian submarine and underwater activity” in the last 20 years.

“It meant Moscow could “put at risk and potentially exploit the world’s real information system, which is undersea cables that go all around the world”.” reported Sky News. “That is where predominantly all the world’s information and traffic travels,” he added. “Russia has grown the capability to put at threat those undersea cables and potentially exploit those undersea cables.”

The UK intelligence and Royal Navy have been tracking Russian submarine activity during that period fearing attacks.

A towed array sonar deployed by a Royal Navy frigate hit a Russian submarine during operations in the North Atlantic in 2020, the British Ministry of Defence has recently confirmed.

The collision was recorded by a film crew for the British TV station Channel 5 for a documentary series called “Warship: Life at Sea”.

“The likelihood is that it was an accident, since towed arrays are not easy for a submarine to detect precisely, and there would have been some risk to the submarine from a deliberate collision,” Nick Childs, a senior fellow for naval forces at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank in London, told DefenseNews. “However, there is a report of at least one incident from the Cold War of a British nuclear submarine, HMS Conqueror, cutting and capturing a towed array from a Soviet ship, but the submarine was reportedly specially modified and equipped for the job,” said Childs.

Sir Tony also explained that UK is working on the development of hypersonic missiles, like other states including Russia, to achieve long-range capability.

“We haven’t and we must have,” he added.

Security experts worldwide have warned multiple times about undersea cable tapping for espionage purposes. Threat actors can do it by inserting backdoors during the cable manufacturing process, targeting onshore landing stations and facilities that link cables to networks on land, or tapping the cables at sea.

Experts also fear cyber attacks that could hack the network management systems that private companies use to manage data traffic passing through the undersea cable.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, undersea cables)

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