The Most Fragile Place of the Global Internet

Tram Ho

Asia Africa Europe 1 international undersea fiber optic cable (AAE-1), with a length of 25,000 km under the seabed, connecting Hong Kong with Marseille, provides Internet connectivity to more than a dozen countries and territories, from India to Greece (including Vietnam). As a result, a serious cable break on June 7 in the Red Sea, near Egypt, caused millions of people to experience intermittent network problems and complete disconnections.

“The cable break has an immediate impact,” said Rosalind Thomas, CEO of undersea cable construction company SAEx International Management. “At least 7 countries and a series of critical services were severely affected.”

Of which, Ethiopia lost 90% of the connection, or Somalia was affected 85%. Cloud services from Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are disrupted, making it difficult for businesses and individuals.

Nơi mong manh nhất của Internet toàn cầu - Ảnh 1.

Although connectivity was restored a few hours later, incidents like those of AAE-1 are showing the fragility of more than 550 undersea Internet cables. They are a vital part of the Internet’s backbone, responsible for transmitting most of the data globally, and linking various networks such as cell towers and Wi-Fi connections.

But more importantly, many of the cables, like the AAE-1, are going through Egypt’s Red Sea.

The most sensitive spot of the global Internet: the Red Sea

The most sensitive point belongs to the Red Sea region located in the Middle East between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where 16 major undersea fiber optic cables intersect areas from the Mediterranean Sea, connecting Europe with Asia. Over the past two decades, the region has been seen as one of the world’s largest Internet hotspots, yet the most vulnerable. They are often damaged by the towboat anchors or earthquakes.

“Where the traffic flows through the most, there will be a point of vulnerability. Because it is home to many global cable routes, the Red Sea has become the weakest point of the world’s Internet, “said Associate Professor Nicole Starosielski of New York University.

The Red Sea region has also recently received attention from the European Parliament. In a June report, the agency highlighted the region’s risk of widespread Internet disruption. “The most dangerous bottleneck for the EU concerns the route between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean via the Red Sea, as core connections to Asia are through this route,” the report states, adding that it fears it. vulnerable to attack from extremists, terrorists or pirates.

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AAE-1 is one of the important undersea fiber optic cable routes, connecting Asia, Africa and Europe with 550 routes in operation.

The map of undersea cables running through Egypt above clearly shows why Internet experts have been interested in the area for years. 16 cable routes gather near one place and cross the Red Sea. According to TeleGeography, 17% of the world’s Internet traffic passed through this region last year, or 178 million Mbps. For comparison, the average US Internet speed is currently 167 Mbps.

Doug Madory, an internet analyst at monitoring firm Kentik, said Egypt has become one of the internet’s “bottlenecks” for a number of reasons. This country has an important geographical position, is the shortest route from Europe to Asia. “Every time someone tries to plot an alternative route, they’re going to have to go through Syria, Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan, which all have a lot of other potential problems,” Madory said.

Protection projects

Underground cables for the Internet are currently considered to be relatively fragile and easily damaged. Every year, more than 100 cable breaks take place, mostly due to boat traffic, environmental impacts or even vandalism.

Despite the dangers, the Internet is built on resilience. If one cable is damaged, traffic will be rerouted to other cables. This is also the reason why big companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build their own Internet undersea cable in recent years.

Nơi mong manh nhất của Internet toàn cầu - Ảnh 3.

Google’s Blue-Raman submarine cable network connects India with France.

A number of solutions have been proposed to reduce dependence on undersea cables, such as Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite Internet. However, experts say that this form should only be applied in rural and remote areas or used as a precaution.

“They cannot handle hundreds of terabits of data traveling across continents. Only undersea cable can do this,” said Alan Mauldin, Research Director at TeleGeography.

Therefore, organizations need to take measures to protect the cable routes running through Egypt. Many land-based stations that allow fiber-optic cables to pass through have been built along the Egyptian coast. The nation’s telecommunications companies have also begun establishing overland cables along the Suez Canal, using concrete conduits to protect Internet cables.

Last July, Google announced the launch of the Blue-Raman submarine cable connecting India with France via the Red Sea. The cable goes through the Red Sea, but instead of crossing overland in Egypt, it reaches the Mediterranean via Israel. Google has split the cable into two separate projects: Blue runs through Israel and to Europe, while Raman connects to Saudi Arabia before traveling along India.

Ultimately, Egypt will always be the hub of Europe and Asia’s internet connections. The reason is because the geographical location cannot be changed. Much more needs to be done to protect undersea fiber optic cables, as everyone depends on them. Keeping it up and running is vitally important to national security and to any country’s economy, Mauldin stressed.

Reference: Wired

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Source : Genk