US President Joe Biden warned this week that Russia is taking into consideration assaults on essential infrastructure. A single of the eventualities that has been mooted considering that the start out of the war in Ukraine is that Moscow will assault undersea cables in get to slice off the world’s internet. But this worst-scenario circumstance is extra complicated to carry out than it seems.

“Based mostly on evolving intelligence, Russia could possibly be scheduling a cyber attack against us,” Biden said at a press conference on March 21. “The magnitude of Russia’s cyber capacity is relatively consequential and it truly is coming.”

Biden additional that “one particular of the applications (Russia’s) most likely to use, in my watch – in our watch ­– is cyber attacks. They have a really sophisticated cyber capability”.

This is not the initially time since the start off of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that the US president has warned about the danger of these types of attacks. The day immediately after the launch of the Russian invasion on February 24, Washington announced it was “geared up” to ward off any Russian cyber assault.

Biden urged American organizations to “lock their electronic doors” as quickly as feasible to protect themselves. The fear is that “unparalleled cost inflicted on Russia” by all the most current global sanctions could force Russian President Vladimir Putin to retaliate by instantly attacking NATO nations around the world working with cyber weapons, Biden stated.


Moscow was rapid to categorically reject these accusations. “The Russian Federation, unlike lots of Western international locations, which includes the United States, does not have interaction in condition-amount banditry,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday.

More than 430 underwater cables at risk

But Biden’s warnings have nonetheless revived the spectre of a electronic disaster situation where by Russia would deprive the full world of the net by attacking the web’s undersea cables.

This prospect has been lifted a lot more than when, even in superior armed forces circles, considering that the commencing of the Ukrainian crisis. In January 2022, Admiral Tony Radakin, head of the British armed forces, stated that Moscow could “place at threat and possibly exploit the world’s actual information system, which is undersea cables that go all all-around the world”, claimed the Guardian newspaper. Radakin’s theory was shared by the influential American consider tank Atlantic Council, which posted an posting on the threat of the Kremlin severing international world-wide-web cables at the starting of the calendar year.

In excessive of 430 undersea world-wide-web cables stand for tempting targets for any person wishing to disrupt worldwide connectivity. Often found as a person of the weakest one-way links in the world community, these cables “search like huge yard hoses lying at the base of the sea”, Tobias Liebetrau, an skilled on international relations and IT stability troubles at the Danish Institute for Worldwide Experiments, told FRANCE 24.

Over all, they have no specific defense, apart from for “built-in surveillance methods that can send out out alerts only if there is a threat close by”, extra Liebetrau.

Effortlessly hid attacks…

“It is theoretically extremely effortless to conceal the sabotage of an undersea cable,” stated Christian Bueger, a expert in maritime safety difficulties at the College of Copenhagen, speaking with FRANCE 24.

All it would choose to damage a cable would be for a service provider ship or fishing boat to drop its anchor on one not much from the coast, where these infrastructures are at a reasonably shallow amount. Divers or submarines could also location explosives on the cables or install mines close by, which could then be detonated remotely.

These operations surface straightforward, but the success could be potentially breathtaking and pretty high priced for Western economies. As soon as a European internet user logs into their Gmail inbox, writes a tweet or “likes” a faculty friend’s Fb write-up, their requests cross the Atlantic by means of a community of these undersea cables.

“They are important if you are seeking to transfer knowledge to nations overseas,” claimed Emile Aben, a pc safety professional at the RIPE Community Coordination Centre, an NGO that serves as a regional IP address registry for Europe and the Middle East, talking with FRANCE 24.

If the hypothesis of a Russian assault from these infrastructures is so stressing, it is because “Russia has been noticed undertaking naval exploration or workout routines close to places where by the cables are located”, explained Bueger. Russian ships have carried out exercises close to Ireland and Norway, the place numerous submarine cables linking Europe to the United States operate. Russian study boats were being also noticed in 2014 off the coast of Portugal, again in an space where there are a dozen submarine cables. For yrs, there has been a suspicion that “Russia is up to a little something”, pointed out Bueger.

… but challenging in observe

Bueger described there is also “the impact that throughout each individual conflict, the suggests of interaction are always between the precedence targets. Throughout the Second Planet War, it was the telegraphs, and today it would be the undersea cables”.

The significant variance is that depriving the planet of the world-wide-web is not as effortless as it was to minimize electrical wires on the front line in 1939. “Attacking a single internet cable is a little bit like destroying a solitary lane on a 10-lane highway. If the freeway has enough ability, visitors will never discover,” said Aben. Extremely linked nations, these types of as most European states, the United States or Asian countries, count on considerably much more than one cable to connection them to the entire world exactly because these infrastructures are so vulnerable.

“Aside from a several isolated islands, there are really handful of nations that would be deprived of the net if only two or three cables were ruined,” claimed Liebetrau. The islands that would be influenced contain the Azores archipelago, the island of Madeira and the Australian condition of Tasmania.

“Russia would have to mount a large-scale military operation to definitely threaten world wide web obtain for targets like the United States or Europe,” explained Liebetrau. “They would will need to do a ton of reconnaissance functions to come across out precisely where by just about every cable is located, due to the fact although maps exist, they are deliberately not incredibly exact”.

Russia would then have to mobilise a huge amount of ships and submarines to strike all the targeted cables at the same time. “1 area to concentrate on would be the Suez canal for the reason that it is a choke point for info transfer in between Europe and Asia. But you would have to have to use explosives,” mentioned Bueger.

Also, this sort of motion would mostly concentrate on the civilian populace. “When there is no option to undersea cables for every day internet use [managing financial flows, watching movies, playing video games], some considerably less details-intense communications, such as military services or govt-to-governing administration communications, could continue to be taken care of by satellite networks,” said Bueger.

This is why, even if in idea undersea cables surface to be prime targets, “it really is remarkably unlikely that Russia would go down this route”, reassured Liebetrau. An attack of this level would be deemed an act of war by the West, as confirmed by Radakin. And Moscow would possibly not be prepared to escalate this sort of an procedure, which would require a good deal of resources without having getting any substantial influence on NATO’s military services abilities.

It is possible, although, that Russia could make some lesser level of attack, just to show their energy. “I can see them heading soon after a single or two cables as a symbolic gesture,” agreed Bueger.  “It would suit the sample of Russia utilizing their new weapons, since it would be an superior sort of attack.”

This post has been translated from the unique in French.