Internet security ("poor old woman" accidentally shuts it down in two countries)

How common is this for net cables to be so easily accessed? If this scavenger could shut down the net just by digging around railroad tracks (using her high-tech saw), it makes me wonder: Where do they usually lay these fiber optic cables?

Guys with backhoes routinely damage power lines, and phone/cable TV/internet lines. In the US there is a lot more infrastructure so rarely are things cut that affect large numbers of people. There is not one power line going into larger cities in the US. The same goes for internet or phones.

A few years ago a large amount of the internet was cut off to the middle east because a ship put their anchor down in the wrong place and cut some cables.

So the answer is that the cables are not very well protected.

Several years ago (circa 1995 or 1996) the Australian Parliament posted to its public web site a detailed map showing all the international connections, along with the fiber optics backbone connections for the country’s entire telecommunications structure. While the Sydney-Melbourne connection had no less than eight different fiber links**, there were only two fiber links that spanned the entire continent at the time. One was in the south through Adelaide to Perth. The other went to Perth went through Darwin.

The document lasted several weeks on the web site before someone had the brains to realize the enormous damage such information in the wild might cause. Still, too late as it was copied and shared widely. At the time it was easy to actually locate these connections far from town and cities, and with a backhoe, find and cut the fiber. At the time, the fiber between and among the Sydney-Melbourne-Adelaide was cut numerous times, all attributed to digging without knowledge what was buried there.

**Telstra maintained all eight fibers but only kept one to one and a half in use at any one time. As the story goes, if Optus or a different telecom attempted to undercut Telstra’s prices along the lucrative Sydney-Melbourne links, Telstra allegedly turned on another fiber to increase the bandwidth and dropped their own rates.

That was the published story. IIRC, someone did some research and found that the anchor chain had to have been a few thousand feet long to be true.

I posted about this here when it happened but a couple of years ago I was in Darwin when the phone/internet went down for the entire Northern Territory, an area twice the size of Texas. No phones, no internet, no ATMs, no faxes, nothing. Telstra had two cables feeding the NT, one had suffered a failure earlier and they were running on the back up when it failed as well.

How easily could I get this kind of information about, let’s say, a specific institution, or even a large part of a city? Suppose I wanted to get back at an employer, or something, or to disable a competitor’s operational capacity–if only momentarily. Is the cable just sitting there a few feet under the sidewalk, or under an unsecured manhole cover?

I design such cable installation jobs for a telco’s customers here in the capital.
The cable might be under the sidewalk, or going down the road and then branching under the sidewalk. It might bore into the cellar, if there is one, or it might come up flush with the wall and go up the face of the building and then in (usually shielded with galvanised trunking for the first few yards to stop casual vandalism). Rarely if ever will we do overhead installations. Frequently there will be a cable pit in the sidewalk where the joint is made, or if the sidewalk is already too busy with other services there will be one in the road. People lifting up the ones in the sidewalk rarely attract attention, lifting the ones in the road is best done around 4-5 a.m. and will attract attention from law enforcement. Inside you will be lucky to find anything labelled, and if it is the meaning won’t be obvious - frequently it’s obscure even to us (comes from inheriting a variety of cable franchises with indifferent records). These days increasingly the network is under attack - people pour gasoline in the joint box and set light to it to burn out the joint, set off all the alarms in the district and rob their chosen premises in the general confusion. Some boxes have lockable lids now.
We store the information on a common drive under customers’ postcodes. Need-to-know people can access the drive, so access to the intra-net plus someone’s ID and password are needed. My former employers had a national planning and records system called PACS which did the same thing, though a knowledge of Post Office A1141 codes would help considerably in using it to sort out which exchange [central] was serving which customer.

Returning to the OP, this sounds like poor network design. They shouldn’t be so reliant on one path. There should be multiple paths, main and standby, and they should be ring mains so that a break just causes the data to go the other way round the ring. Cables should be buried at a proper depth (maybe the contractors skimped on the digging). Roads are frequently used for the purpose as wayleaves can be readily obtained without having to negotiate with private landowners. Railroads and canal towpaths are also used for the same reasons. At one time the railroad here had its own telephone network, which was separate from the Post Office system and naturally the cables ran alongside the trackbed.

There is an old joke between internet nerds about this:

“A good sysadmin always carry a short length of fiber-optic cable. If you get lost, you can bury it in the ground (an inch is plenty deep enough), wait 10 minutes, and ask the backhoe operator how to get back to civilization.”

They’re putting cellphone towers along Highway 62 (finally!) and they certainly appear to have connections via pole line. But of course, we’re dealing with terrain like this: granite outcroppings and swamps. Then again, there’s been a lot of digging in the area too.

Several years ago, most of Minnesota and part of Wisconsin was cut off from the internet in a similar case: a homeless man sleeping under the Washington Ave bridge in Minneapolis built a fire to keep warm. The fire got out of control, and burned communications cables that ran under the bridge. Including the ones connecting Minnesota to the internet backbone

The primary ISP actually had multiple, redundant communications links. But the phone companies happened to have run them all in the same physical location under this bridge across the Mississippi river. (After that, they made sure that their communications links actually were on completely separate physical paths.)

Man, the swamp next to the road three arrow-clicks down the road (I think you can see it here) scares the hell out of me for some reason.

I used to live in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. People there steal power by rigging up illegal lines and steal the lines themselves all the time. They steal manhole covers too… be careful walking down the street as there are open manholes and wires running across the sidewalk to power kiosks illegally. No surprise about this article.