FBI investigating 11 attacks on San Francisco-area Internet lines

The 11th time in a year…

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The FBI is investigating at least 11 physical attacks on high-capacity Internet cables in California’s San Francisco Bay Area dating back a year, including one early Tuesday morning.

The attacks date back to at least July 6, 2014, said FBI Special Agent Greg Wuthrich.

The pattern of attacks raises serious questions about the glaring vulnerability of critical Internet infrastructure, said JJ Thompson, CEO of Rook Security, a security consulting and services provider in Indianapolis.

Fiber-optic cables are essentially bundles of slender glass fibers that use light waves to transmit data. They are the interstate highways of the information superhighway, carrying vast amounts of data between decentralized hubs. From there, Internet services are delivered to homes and businesses by lower-capacity cables, including DSL.

In Arizona earlier this year, tens of thousands of residents were cut off from Internet service after someone sliced through underground fiber-optic cables.

“When it’s situations that are scattered all in one geography, that raises the possibility that they are testing out capabilities, response times and impact,” Thompson said. “That is a security person’s nightmare.”

Wuthrich said cutting the lines requires tools. Although fiber-optic lines themselves aren’t much bigger than diameter of a pencil, they’re usually protected by tough, flexible conduit. Citing the ongoing investigation, he declined to further discuss specifics of the attacks, which he said have generally occurred in remote areas not monitored by security cameras.

Mark Peterson, a spokesman for Internet provider Wave Broadband, said an unspecified number of Sacramento-area customers were knocked offline by the latest attack. He characterized the Tuesday attack as “coordinated” and said the company was working with Level 3 and Zayo to restore service.

Fiber-optic cable lines are everywhere and are very visible, said Richard Doherty, research director of The Envisioneering Group, a technology assessment and market research firm.

There are flags and signs indicating to somebody who wants to do damage: This is where it is folks,” Doherty said. “You often have fiber from several companies sometimes going down the same street or the same trench. One attacker can dig one hole and wipe out service from three companies.”

Full article: FBI investigating 11 attacks on San Francisco-area Internet lines (USA Today)

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