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Think-tank warns that Undersea Cables are a neglected area of critical infrastructure protection

The UK must do more to protect the indispensable, yet insecure Internet infrastructure provided by undersea cables, urges Rishi Sunak MP in a new report published by Policy Exchange.

The report ‘Undersea Cables: Indispensable, insecure’ says that 97 percent of global communications and $10 trillion in daily financial transactions are transmitted through cables lying deep beneath the ocean. Undersea cables are the indispensable infrastructure of our time, essential to our modern life and digital economy, yet they are inadequately protected and highly vulnerable to attack at sea and on land, from both hostile states and terrorists.

US intelligence officials have spoken of Russian submarines ‘aggressively operating’ near Atlantic cables as part of its broader interest in unconventional methods of warfare. When Russia annexed Crimea, one of its first moves was to sever the main cable connection to the outside world.
Undersea cables come ashore in just a few remote, coastal locations. These landing sites are critical national infrastructure but often have minimal protection, making them vulnerable to terrorism.

The report recommends that:

  • The next UK Strategic Defence and Security Review should specifically address threats to Britain’s security from attacks on undersea cable infrastructure;
  • The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure should quickly review and improve security at UK landing sites where cables come ashore;
  • Britain and NATO must ensure their maritime resources are adequate to deal with this new threat to our security;
  • The UK government should work with private communications companies to install more backup ‘dark cables’ and improve monitoring at sea;
  • The UK should follow the example of Australia and New Zealand and establish Cable Protection Zones around the highest value communications corridors;
  • The UK must lead efforts to develop a new international treaty to protect undersea cables.

Read the report (PDF).



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