are you as well connected as you think?

It’s reported that three scuba divers were caught last month sabotaging a major subsea cable off the coast of Egypt. Slicing into the SEA-ME-WE 4 cable, which runs from France to Singapore, brought widespread internet problems from Egypt to Pakistan.

While scuba-diver related sabotage has something of the spy movie around it, undersea cables can be surprisingly vulnerable. However, most damage to undersea cables is caused by shipping, such as dragging anchors or natural disasters, such as earthquakes or extreme weather.

impact of cuts

Bandwidth analysts Renesys assessed the impact of the cable cuts on Internet traffic by measuring the increases in roundtrip latency on various backbone networks. They concluded that many of the main network providers had carefully-engineered geographic diversity in their submarine cable networks, but the backup paths don’t always give full relief.

Having multiple diverse paths out of the country also helps keep the Internet resilient in case of Government interference, such as witnessed in Syria and Egypt, where the authorities took action to shut the Internet down. The same analysts looked at countries around the world to assess both the number of international carriers in the country and routes out of it to determine which were at most risk.

fragile internet

Renesys found that the Internet’s famed resilience was surprisingly fragile in many regions. The biggest at-risk areas were primarily in Africa, Middle East and Asia, but much Latin America also was found to be under threat. It identified 61 countries at severe risk of Internet shutdown including Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Libya, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, and Yemen. 

companies at risk: what can you do?

So what does this all mean to enterprises operating in these countries? Well it certainly means that they need to look very carefully at their own network resiliency plans. Even if the government does decided to turn off the Internet tap, there’s the risk of your international submarine connection being disrupted by scuba divers or directionally challenged ships captains. Your network resiliency plan won’t be worth much if your backup carrier uses the same submarine cables out of one of the country.

In many countries, unfortunately, there is actually very little choice. And even if your backup carrier does use a different submarine network to transit international traffic, it could still be affected by the same natural disaster as your primary carrier. This is because many of them run through the same area, such as the aforementioned Egyptian cable, which runs via Alexandria along with many others.

The only real way to avoid this problem altogether is to use satellite networks to act as your international backup. Certainly this would be prudent in the 61 at-risk countries that Renesys identified. This way you can relax in the certainty that your international traffic can avoid any earthly troubles by transiting via the stratosphere.


Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.