Green politician warns of attacks on undersea Internet cables

Berlin The Green politician and secret service expert Konstantin von Notz has warned of Russian attacks on critical infrastructure (Kritis) such as undersea Internet cables. “Unfortunately, the protection of the critical infrastructure on our seabed is in very bad shape. The vulnerability of submerged lines to espionage and sabotage is high,” said the chairman of the parliamentary control body that oversees the work of the federal secret services, the Handelsblatt.

Von Notz spoke against the background of the alleged sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. A total of four leaks in the pipelines have been found since Monday night. Many states assume sabotage. At least two explosions happened underwater, Denmark and Sweden said in a letter dated Thursday. The incident now raises the question of how vulnerable other critical infrastructure is, including data cables.

“We are extremely vulnerable to potentially widespread attacks on these critical infrastructures,” von Notz said. Various armies, including the Russian one, have been keeping a very close eye on the seabed for a long time. They have corresponding submarines and units in use, “whose original task is to investigate communication via submarine cables, to manipulate lines and, if necessary, to damage them irreparably”.

The numerous fiber optic cables on the sea floor form the backbone of the modern internet and enable large amounts of data to be sent back and forth between continents. In an answer to a parliamentary question, the federal government declared at the beginning of February that submarine cables are indispensable for current and future cross-border voice and data traffic.

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According to the market research company Telegeography, there are almost 440 of these undersea cables. The shortest connects the UK with Ireland. The longest stretches around 20,000 kilometers between Singapore and the United States. Market researchers estimate that a total of 1.3 million kilometers of cable have been laid in the sea.

98 percent of communication between continents and companies via undersea cables

A large part of the international data traffic is processed via it. 98 percent of communication between continents and companies takes place Google-Estimates about submarine cables. However, terrestrial voice and data networks as well as satellite connections also play an important role as transmission media.

>> Read also: “The threat is growing” – How endangered is the critical infrastructure in Germany

In fact, undersea cables are so far not a critical component within the meaning of the German Kritis regulation. It defines criteria as to when public institutions or companies are considered critical infrastructures. Data cables are therefore not yet subject to the particularly strict government requirements for their protection. According to the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), the operators of the cable routes are responsible for monitoring and eliminating faults.

In a study published in February, the federal authority examined the importance and resilience of the transmission cables using the example of the transatlantic data line, which was Europe until the United States enough, examined. The laying of such cables and their operation is expensive, “therefore the number of submarine cables is usually limited and the failure of a single one can lead to significant losses in transmission capacity between the continents,” it says.


The lines formed a “fragile physical infrastructure” that could easily be damaged. Repairs are expensive and time-consuming. In the test scenario, the BSI showed what to expect in the event of damage to the transatlantic cable. The result according to a spokesman: To a certain extent, the failure of individual lines can be compensated for via other line routes.

Nato-Scenario: Russian submarines could cut undersea cables between the US and Europe

A recent study commissioned by the Subcommittee on Security and Defense of the EU Parliament also states that possible attackers on the submarine cables have been observing them since 2015 Nato increased Russian submarine activity near key cable routes. Russia a high-ranking military officer in the alliance was quoted as saying that there is obviously an increased interest in the underwater infrastructure of NATO countries.

One of the scenarios circulating at NATO is that Russian submarines could cut submarine cables between the United States and Europe. Attacks of this type could be part of hybrid warfare, i.e. a mixture of open and covert warfare.

The Green politician von Notz shares the assessment of the German naval inspector Jan Christian Kaack in this regard. In a recent interview, the Vice Admiral emphasized the importance of the critical infrastructure on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, but also in the Atlantic, including pipelines and undersea cables for IT.

There are “threats to global communication structures that you have to pay particular attention to,” Kaack told the “Welt”. According to him, Russian underwater or surface units have recently been in the area of ​​​​these cables for a long time.

As a consequence, von Notz demands that the intelligence services have to “take a closer look at the objectively existing dangers than before”. “In addition, there is finally a need for a comprehensive concept for the protection of critical infrastructures,” said the Green politician. The “Kritis umbrella law” agreed in the coalition agreement must now be “implemented with political priority” in view of the increased threat situation. “In addition, we will have to resolutely reposition the defense against sabotage.”

More: Wired or tied up? The power struggle over the data cables in the sea

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