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10 February 2008

To: <>
Subject: RE: undersea cable cuts
Date:	Sun, 10 Feb 2008 06:12:38 -0500

Actually, tapping terrestrial fiber optic cable is easy: a 3db splitter will
do it, though that introduces a break (which isnt a big deal: sonet/sdh rings
will recover within 50 ms, in general).

Its also fairly easy to introduce a tap that doesnt introduce a break, and
this doesnt require spookish equipment at all:its kind of a
hand-grip-looking thing that clamps onto the fiber and pulls some of the
optical signal via cladding-mode coupling.

Either of these methods introduce at least a 3db loss, which in many cases
will just be assumed by the fibers owners to be some of the usual cultprits
that cause loss, or simply a poor splice by the truck guys.

Once you introduce optical amplification, however, its eavesdrop city and you
can tap out some signal without the loss being evident to even OTDRs.

Tapping an underwater cable is far, far harder, but the NSA is known by fiber
guys to have at least two of the very expensive and very specialized subs

At Bellcore, I actually consulted on some undersea project by the defense
department, who were seeing intermittent losses on their underwater
something-or-other, which they never told us. But, it was obvious that they
were operating an OC-3 network via their own optical fibers, which I strongly
suspect sat alongside or even inside the underwater cable. They probably had
periodic stations to look for interesting chunks of traffic that they could
tap (or electronically copy) into their own network, which Ill take a wild
guess was probably ATM over OC-3, which would make sense for several reasons,
including reach, which is critical in that environment.

In this case, though, I dont think its us JbTs, just because theres too
much business at stake.

I suspect we have some new mode of fiber optic mujahadeen that are trying to
hurt or seriously fuck up money flows into the middle east, but dont quote me
on that. How did they do it? Dont know, but remember they were resourceful
enough to figure out how to turn a 727 into a very effective smart missile.

Date: Sat, 9 Feb 2008 12:04:33 -0500 To: Subject: Re: undersea cable cuts The Economist did little research, it seems, or it was fed disinfo, or was induced to defuse speculation. This list's archive, if no where else, would defuse most of the Economist's defusing. That's not to say the cpunks archives exists in full, or not easily located. [Selections below.] For several years, if not from day one, transoceanic cables are pre-rigged for tapping, aguably for repair and maintenance by firms like Global Marine, but easily siphoned for less benign purposes. Moreover it is flat wrong that fiber optic cable is hard to tap. It takes sophisticated equipment but none that is beyond the spies and telecomms regular capability. Disinfo abounds about this as with most classified-at-birth communications technology. The spies regularly spout that fiber has made eavesdropping more difficult, along with encryption, the out of control Internet, the ease of transborder evasion of global laws on privacy and national security. Top US spy McConnell is on automatic about these fairy tales. Lying about interception capability is as old as communications. The Economist is full of shit and shallowness, the silly quotes from discussion lists, with only a small chance that the story was not planted by officials. It sure reads like the usual DNI-MI-speak when an op is discovered or deliberately leaked to divert attention from more covert derringdo. Say, why tap when worldwide ISPs are jumping through hoops to get natsec snooping business. I'd say global spies are desperate to keep surveillance budgets out of this world. Almost as desperate as news outlets whipsawing readers. Nothing like that would ever happen here.
Selections from the Cypherpunks mail-list archives: Cyphernomicon by Tim May 18.13 - Physical Security 18.13.1. "Can fiber optical cables be tapped?" + Yes. Light can escape from the fiber in bends, and "near- field" tapping is theoretically possible, at least under lab conditions. Active measures for puncturing cable shields and tapping fibers are also possible. - "The Fed's want a cost effective F/O tap. My company was approached to develop such a system, can be done but not cheap like copper wire tapping." [ domonkos[at] (andy domonkos),, 1994-06-29] 6 June 2003 Modern cable companies use fiber optics to transmit the signals from the headend where the satellite dishes and antennas are to a neighborhood where they are converted from optical to rf on copper and distributed locally. And optical fiber does not radiate at all at radio frequencies. The only source of rf radiation in fiber optic systems is the electronics at either end which convert the light into electrical signals for local use. One problem that most naive paranoid types completely fail to grasp is the titanic volume of modern communications. The flow is so overwhelming that only a powerful God could possibly process it all to find interesting material. The entire federal budget could not pay enough humans to screen and analyze ALL the electonic communications of even a medium size city in 2003. So communications intercepts are necessarily targeted very narrowly, even drag net fishing is likely done only in places where there is a real likelihood that something important will turn up with finite effort. The notion that an all powerful big brother is listening to everything and capturing everything just is not realistic, and a very very high percentage of what does get captured is never looked at or listened to or even stored for very long. Which of course is why traffic analysis and transaction analysis and social network discovery is far more important than flying airplanes around trying to collect incidental radiation from local copper T1 lines. Knowing who calls or emails who makes it possible to find the needles which you want to monitor in the vast haystacks. Thus there is a much greater probability that records of your calls and IP traffic addresses are looked at for patterns and association with known bad guys than that someone is actually listening to or reading your traffic looking for the word bomb. 07 Oct 1998 During the 1970s and 1980s, almost all Britain's long-distance telephone calls were carried on the microwave network of which Hunters Stones is part. The existence of the cables connecting the network to [NSA's] Menwith Hill has been known since 1980, but the authorities have always refused to comment. BT now claims that the cables were connected directly to the United States via undersea cable, and did not link to other parts of the British system. The system was upgraded in 1992, says BT, when a new high capacity optical fibre cable was installed. This linked to a different part of the BT network, but was also carried directly to the United States via undersea cable. Since then, BT revealed, the capacity of the system has been trebled by adding two more optical fibre links. These could carry more than 100,000 simultaneous telephone calls. 16 Feb 1997 Even international communications from the US are less and less routed via satellite as high capacity fiber trans-ocean cables are installed. I have seen numbers on the order of less than 10% satellite transmission of international traffic and as new optical amplifier cables are installed (which one can assume the UK/USA partners such as the US NSA get the entire bitstream from) this number is also plunging. And most international satellite communications can be monitored from the other end and do not have to be monitored from near the US. As a point of fact I would be more concerned that Russian submarines have tapped the trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific cables somewhere than that the Russians pick up satellite communications. One hopes that the bitstreams on those cables are really securely link encrypted - doing so would seem to be a no-brainer - but I have never seen any reference to this being the practice. Of course all sigint yields information such as passwords and encryption keys and spectral signatures of speakers and call addressing and routing information (traffic analysis) that can be used to good advantage in later active man-in-the-middle attacks. And one can certainly assume that the Russians and many other governments including the US have spent considerable effort developing active penetration and disruption capability. It has even been reported that the US has been using this to force network traffic to be routed in Europe via facilities the US can monitor. 28 Nov 1996 Doug Barnes writes: PS -- DO read Neal Stephenson's article in the same Wired; it's a bit boosterish, but it's the funniest tract on fiber optic cable you'll ever read. It gives a good idea of where things are headed (deregulation, disintermediation of cable laying services, cable as speculative investment as opposed to guaranteed utility, etc.). I'd argue things aren't headed that way as quickly as Neal indicates, but certainly where FLAG is landing, it's acting as a catalyst for change of this sort. Wired, December 1996 Neal Stephenson There is also the obvious threat of sabotage by a hostile government, but, surprisingly, this almost never happens. When cypherpunk Doug Barnes was researching his Caribbean project, he spent some time looking into this, because it was exactly the kind of threat he was worried about in the case of a data haven. Somewhat to his own surprise and relief, he concluded that it simply wasn't going to happen. "Cutting a submarine cable," Barnes says, "is like starting a nuclear war. It's easy to do, the results are devastating, and as soon as one country does it, all of the others will retaliate. More of Stephenson's article:
Date: Sat, 9 Feb 2008 11:14:55 -0500 To: Subject: Re: undersea cable cuts I have read several posts on this both here and on other lists, the news seems not to be reporting much about this and the conspiracy theories abound. Today however, I read a rather interesting piece on The Economist which I found interesting enough to post here for comment... According to them, this is just a well publicized string of coincidences and in one case, one cable was taken down by the operators themselves. The assertion that these cables fail relatively often, yet go unreported is also interesting to me. The other interesting statement is that this did not have a massive impact on Iran's internet infrastructure. The latter would have the impact of nullifying many theories, if true. What do folks here think? -- 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 cablesbone owned by FLAG Telecom, a subsidiary of India's Reliance Group, the other (SEA-ME-WE 4) by a consortium of 16 telecoms firmsbcarry 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, 75m 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, b1 cable = an accident; 2 cables = a possible accident; 3 cables = deliberately sabotaged.b The conspiracy theories started to take wing. bWe need to ponder the possibilityb, declared a posting on, bthat 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.b Or American villainy, said others. A user called Blakey Rat reported that bthe US navy was at one point technically able to tap into undersea fibre-optic cables using a special chamber mounted on a support submarine.b A website called the Galloping Beaver asked, bwhere is the USS Jimmy Carter?bba 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 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., a discussion board, said Iran had lost all internet access on February 1st. "A communications disruption can mean only one thingbinvasion," 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, to the mass selling of dollars "which would have instantly crashed [the American] economy". Marcus Salek of New World Order ( 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.