San Francisco Internet Cuts: Was Someone Testing The System?

I noticed this last week, because my internet access was unusually slow. I wondered then what was going on and finally read about the Bay Area cuts. This additional perspective isn't all that reassuring:

There may be more security issues than ever with a so-called smart grid controlling power distribution in the country.

The real likelihood that hackers can break into such a grid is actually not a possibility, but an inevitability. What is always overlooked when these fancy initiatives are unveiled is the nature of the Internet.

What we need is a distribution system that relies on computer technology for management, but which is completely off the Net itself. Nobody wants to do that.

It is crazy to put all of our eggs in one Internet basket, as the telecommunications scene worldwide is subject to too much hacking. Even a non-Internet network cannot be secured.

This problem goes further than hackers online -- it goes to our overdependence on interconnectivity through common connections.

This week in the San Francisco Bay Area, the fiber-optic cable network was purposely sliced at four distinct locations. Where a hacker cannot succeed, bolt cutters will do.

[...] Once the cables were cut, Internet service was flaky for the region and completely out for 50,000 customers. On top of that, the landlines would not work and the cell-phone towers in the area went dead.

Does anyone find this sort of interdependency a little disconcerting? It is as if someone was testing the grid for either redundancy or failure points.

Much of the problem stems from the issues with technologies such as fiber optics. They require a level of public trust to work, because the cables must be clearly marked to prevent public works and contractors from accidentally cutting them.

In most parts of the country, there are signs up and down highways, across bodies of water and even in cities marking the location of a fiber-optic line. There are even maps of these things and where they are located.

How much work would it take to find some choke points that you could cut for the purposes of disrupting data communications in an area? How would this affect the so-called smart grid?

The peculiar nature of the four cuts around the Bay Area indicated to me that someone was mapping how they would affect the region, keeping in mind that by cutting the cable in key areas you might be able to take down half the country. If more cuts are made in the future, then someone is trying to reverse-engineer the network to find the most vulnerable points of disruption.


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