It sounds like the farfetched rantings of a madman, or at least the opening credits of a James Bond movie. A number of United States experts have warned that Russian ships could potentially cut the undersea cables which carry the internet, potentially crippling global communications and leading to economic breakdown.
Russia’s navy has been observed “aggressively operating” near undersea internet cables in the Atlantic, which link the United States to Europe.
The cables are the primary communication medium between the two continents, meaning that any disruption – even if temporary – would have wide reaching consequences for communications, the global financial markets and trade.
While Russia’s meddling and interference to date has tended to be done through using the internet rather than by cutting it, they have history in this area.
When Russia annexed Crimea in 2013, one of its first steps was to cut internet cables to the region, crippling communication and facilitating the military takeover.
The British military have warned that the goal may not be disruption, but the gathering of intelligence. The Russian navy may be intercepting communications across the cables in order to gather information on private citizens.
The same tactic has been used by the UK and the US for years, but Russia’s entry into the game has experts worried.
The danger to Australia might seem less direct, however due to the extent to which our communications are reliant on the US and Europe, there’s little chance we’d be spared of major catastrophe should Russia decide to cut the cables.
While attacking undersea internet cables may seem obvious, so far the major danger has been posed not by world powers or terrorist organisations – but by sharks. As we reported a few years back, sharks have developed a taste for fibre optic cables and frequently mistake the electric pulses within for the movement of animals.
Google has invested millions in protecting its cables, coating them with kevlar and other protective substances.