Data Sheet—Saturday, October 31, 2015
At the bottom of the ocean floor rest the cables that make the Internet possible. Strange though it may seem, the world is strung together like a gigantic submarine zither. Optical fiber pipes—plucked by users everywhere—carry our music, our chatter, our data across the globe.
One can understand why American defense officials might be worried then, that a Russian spy ship has been snooping around these wired routes. As a New York Times article earlier this week suggested, one cannot rule out the possibility of a devastating attack against these vital lines—”the ultimate Russian hack on the United States,” if you will. The Pentagon, for one, has certainly contemplated such a doomsday event.
Should the rest of us be concerned? I asked Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis at Dyn Research, who keeps close tabs on the performance of Internet infrastructure, for his thoughts. He maintains that these networks—though they suffer cable breaks somewhat regularly (especially in shallow, anchor-prone waters)—are phenomenally resilient. A concerted attack, however, might pose a bigger problem.
“If someone did sever cables in the most extreme Hollywood scenario,” he said, “any kind of international commerce or communications could be severely impacted.” Still the greatest impact, he suggested, might be psychological.
“It does sound a little James Bond,” he added. “But I guess that’s what the Navy is paid to defend against.”
Such telecom attacks have a precedent—if not yet at the scale imagine by the Times. A spate of mysterious cable cuts hit California this year. Saboteurs in Gabon recently sliced submarine wires amid a labor dispute. And the Egyptian Navy arrested divers who damaged undersea lines with explosives while apparently scavenging for scrap metal in 2013. Madory describes these events and others in a blog post of his own here.
I mulled these incidents and incursions while visiting AT&T’s global network operations center earlier this week. (More on that to come.) There I had a birds-eye view of the company’s webwork of wired and wireless links—as well as a squid’s-eye view of its undersea cable system. That submarine network appeared on screen as a tangled ball of seaweed, shaded an algal green.
“I swear I didn’t set that up,” the tour guide told me, grinning as he motioned toward the display. There was not a jot of red to be found. (Green means “good” connection; red means “problem.”) At least for now, I presume, the network must be doing okay.
So there’s your Oct. 31, technologic apocalypse scenario. Happy Halloween—read on for more news.
Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach me via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber, PGP encrypted email, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.
U.S. to deploy special ops in Syria. The United States will send ground troops to the conflict-ridden country in order to combat the self-identified Islamic State. The commandos will number fewer than 50. (NBC)
Senate approves CISA bill. The cybersecurity information sharing act will encourage business and government agencies to share information related to hacking attacks. Privacy advocates contend that the act is a surveillance bill by a different name. (Fortune)
EU clears Snowden. The European Parliament voted to drop criminal charges against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and to grant him asylum. The vote was nearly split at 285-281. (Fortune)
Military blimp goes rogue. A surveillance airship broke free of its moorings in Maryland, drifted 150 miles while tailed by F-16 fighter jets, and crash-landed in rural Pennsylvania. The U.S. has spent $2.7 billion on the JLENS blimp program to date. (LA Times)
Internet traffic can be misrouted. Hackers packing the right equipment can redirect Internet traffic anywhere they like. The attack involves a flaw in the language—known as “border gateway protocol”—used by routers to shuttle data packets. (WSJ)
Intel to sell Stonesoft. Just two years after buying the computer firewall-maker for nearly $400 million, Intel is set to sell it off. Defense firm Raytheon-Websense plans to pick the unit up. (Fortune)
Cisco to buy Lancope. The networking giant plans to acquire this cybersecurity firm for more than $450 million. Lancope specializes in monitoring computer networks for malicious activity. (Fortune)
Tor releases encrypted chat tool. The non-profit has debuted an instant messenger that will allow users to chat privately, anonymously, and off-the-record. The app is in its beta version. (Wired)
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Fortune senior writer Barb Darrow explains Oracle's security conundrum.
At Oracle OpenWorld this week, company execs spent a good chunk of their stage time talking about security. The remarks come just weeks after Oracle, which had no comment on this story, released an eyebrow-raising set of 154 security fixes in a Critical Patch Update covering many of its key products. An IT consultant who works with federal agencies on Oracle implementations said this update was nothing short of a scandal because Oracle’s “entire product fleet was affected: pretty much every database, middleware web and app server. Everything." The specialist requested anonymity because he works with the company’s customers. Read the rest on Fortune.com.
Cyber SATs. For military recruitment. (NextGov)
Help wanted. Chinese hacker job openings! (Onion)
Roll the dice! Passwords, only $2 a pop. (Fortune)
DIY time. Build a secure burner laptop. (Vice Motherboard)
Millennials on cybersecurity. Confident ignoramuses? (Federal Computer Week)
I went to a cryotherapy spa—here's why I'm not going back by Sue Callaway
This European dictator is the bond market's best friend by Chris Matthews
Scrapping China's one-child policy won't help it's demographic time bomb by Stuart Gietel-Basten
The stock that ate Wall Street by Joshua Brown
ONE MORE THING
For shame! Websites that prohibit people from using strong passwords. Less than 12 characters? No special characters? Submit offenders here. (Tumblr)
“He suggested that it might be nice if, at the end of the game, you got to shake hands with all your enemies in the hospital.”
007 GoldenEye game director Martin Hollis, describing a fax he received from Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto that included a series suggestions for Nintendo's video game adaptation of the seventeenth James Bond film. Hollis spoke at a gaming festival in the UK this week about how his former employer, game developer Rare, landed a partnership with the Japanese company to design a game for the Bond franchise in the mid-'90s. His team ultimately decided against the bedside scene. (Guardian)
By the way, I plan to attend a pre-screening of Spectre—the latest installment of the MI6 spy series—next week. Stay tuned for a review.