HomeAttacks on U.S.U.S. Underseas Cables Are Critically Vulnerable to Chinese Repair Crews

U.S. Underseas Cables Are Critically Vulnerable to Chinese Repair Crews

Published on

spot_img

U.S. officials are raising alarms about the potential espionage risks posed by Chinese repair ships to the vast network of undersea cables that carry internet traffic across the Pacific Ocean. According to a detailed report by Dustin Volz and others at the Wall Street Journal, these concerns are being communicated to telecommunications giants such as Google and Meta Platforms, highlighting a significant yet often overlooked security threat.

Undersea cables, which span hundreds of thousands of miles and carry almost all the world’s international internet traffic, are crucial for both commercial and military data transmission. These cables are owned in part by Silicon Valley giants like Google and Meta, but they rely on specialized construction and repair companies to maintain them. Some of these companies, such as S.B. Submarine Systems (SBSS), have foreign ownership, and U.S. officials fear that this could endanger the security of these critical data lines.

The State Department has particularly focused on SBSS, a Chinese state-controlled company that repairs international cables. Officials have noted that SBSS has been hiding the locations of its repair ships from radio and satellite tracking services, a move that they find highly suspicious. “The security of undersea cables is rooted in the ability of trusted entities to build, maintain, and repair them in a transparent and safe manner,” said the National Security Council, emphasizing the importance of satellite ship tracking as a measure to support vessel monitoring and safety.

The Biden administration’s concern about these repair ships is part of a broader strategy to counter China’s increasing maritime activities in the western Pacific. Over the past few decades, Beijing has taken steps to challenge U.S. military power in the region, often by trying to undermine the Pentagon’s communications and technological advantages. This is particularly relevant in the event of a potential clash over Taiwan or another flashpoint.

U.S. officials have been discussing these risks with senior Biden administration officials and representatives from major companies like Google and Meta. They have specifically highlighted the activities of SBSS, expressing concerns that Chinese companies could threaten the security of U.S.-owned cables. Despite these warnings, the administration has declined to comment directly on SBSS, and both Google and Meta have remained silent on the matter. SBSS did not respond to requests for comment.

Some industry experts suggest that the gaps in SBSS’s ship-location data might be due to spotty satellite coverage rather than deliberate attempts to hide their positions. They also point out that representatives of cable owners are often present on repair ships, making it difficult for any covert activities to go unnoticed. However, these reassurances do little to alleviate the concerns of U.S. officials, who are particularly troubled by the pattern of SBSS ships turning off their transponders at sea, a practice that is deemed unusual by industry standards.

Instances involving SBSS vessels like the Fu Hai and Bold Maverick, which exhibited erratic transponder activity while operating near strategic locations, further underscore these concerns. For example, the Bold Maverick set out from Singapore in 2019 and hovered over a small patch of sea in an area busy with ship traffic. Over the following weeks, its transponder switched off and on several times, moving around a small area less than a mile across. Similar incidents have been reported with other SBSS ships, leading officials and industry experts to question the motives behind these actions.

The U.S. intelligence community has long been wary of the security of undersea cables. In a 2017 report, it highlighted the potential vulnerabilities posed by industry consortia responsible for maintaining these cables, noting that they might “present vulnerabilities” and could be “susceptible to threats from insiders.” The integrity of these cables is a critical concern, especially in light of Beijing’s rapid military buildup in the South China Sea and its potential to disrupt or tamper with these vital communication lines.

Safeguarding undersea cables has been a priority for U.S. national-security officials since the Cold War. Today, the focus remains on ensuring that these lines, which carry sensitive data to U.S. military bases and other assets around the globe, are protected from potential espionage and sabotage by adversarial nations. To this end, the U.S. government is funding several Pacific cable projects in collaboration with American internet companies. Google, for instance, has announced a $1 billion investment in new cables and infrastructure in the region.

Efforts to shift responsibility for repairing Asian cables away from Chinese vessels pose significant challenges. With a limited fleet of aging ships capable of performing these repairs, finding alternatives to Chinese-owned assets like SBSS is no easy task. Industry analysts, including Mike Constable, who runs telecom consulting firm Infra-Analytics, point out the complexities involved. “You’ve got a Chinese asset repairing U.S.-invested cables,” Constable said. “No one had really thought about that before.”

The U.S. government’s concerns about Chinese repair ships underscore the complex and critical nature of undersea cable security. As global reliance on these cables grows, ensuring their integrity remains a paramount concern for both commercial and military interests. As Volz and his colleagues at the Wall Street Journal have highlighted, the vulnerabilities of these undersea cables could have far-reaching implications for national security and global communications.

ACZ Editor: The fact that China is hiding these ships means that China considers these to be a weapon. These underseas cables are critically important in a lot of ways. In a conflict with China, they will be incredibly difficult to defend – i.e., they are toast.

https://www.wsj.com/politics/national-security/china-internet-cables-repair-ships-93fd6320

Latest articles

AI: Atrocities Denied, Xi Lauded – Google Complicit with Chinese Propaganda Operations

In a disturbing investigation by Wenhao Ma and the Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin...

President Lai: China’s Priority is to Eliminate Taiwan

In a powerful speech at the 100th anniversary of the Whampoa Military Academy, Taiwanese...

Google Takes Down Chinese and Russian Influence Campaigns

Google has taken a strong stand against coordinated influence campaigns designed to manipulate public...

After 3 Years in a Chinese Jail, Cheng Lei’s Comedy Debut: Turning Adversity into Laughter

Cheng Lei, the Australian journalist who spent three years in a Chinese prison, recently...

More like this

AI: Atrocities Denied, Xi Lauded – Google Complicit with Chinese Propaganda Operations

In a disturbing investigation by Wenhao Ma and the Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin...

President Lai: China’s Priority is to Eliminate Taiwan

In a powerful speech at the 100th anniversary of the Whampoa Military Academy, Taiwanese...

Google Takes Down Chinese and Russian Influence Campaigns

Google has taken a strong stand against coordinated influence campaigns designed to manipulate public...