Singularity Law

The Information Technology Law Blog and Podcast by Professor Michael Scott

The World is Flat, and More Vulnerable Than Ever

Two underwater telephone cables were apparently cut by a ship’s anchor near the port of Alexandria in Egypt on January 30th. According to published reports, Egypt has suffered disruption of 70% of its nationwide Internet network, while India has suffered a 60% disruption. The problem has had a significant impact on European and U.S. east coast companies who have outsourced services to India. Users are experiences significant delays in communicating with their Indian business partners. Disruptions also have been reported in Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The problem may continue for a week or more.

“Information technology companies, software companies and call centres that provide online services to the UK or the U.S. east coast are the worst affected,” said Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers’ Association of India. “Some of them are re-routing through the Pacific as a backup, but the voice quality and speed of traffic will be highly degraded,” he said, adding this solution left operators with half their normal bandwidth.

The Internet was designed to be self-correcting after any outage. That is, if one (or even several) links in the Internet network are broken, the system is suppose to route network traffic around the damage. However, that assumes that there are alternative routes that can be used. Here, there are apparently only three cables that carry all Internet traffic between Europe and the Middle East/India, two of which are right next to each other! With two of them down, all of the traffic must be routed through a single cable. While some traffic is being reroute through Pacific undersea cables, it apparently is not as easy as one would imagine and will not provide a complete solution to the problem.

While there is no evidence that this disaster is terrorist-related, you can be sure that those who oppose western societies have learned an important lesson from this “accident.” You can seriously disrupt western businesses without the time, danger and expense of having operatives infiltrating foreign countries and organizing underground cells. Heck, all you need to do is cut a couple of undersea cables. Voila! Global businesses disrupted; national economies brought to their knees.

But this should not come as a surprise to anyone. As more business functions are spread around the world (with much of it going to India and China), Internet connectivity is the lifeblood of global commerce. All of this was laid out in detail in Thomas Friedman’s best seller, “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.”

Do you think anyone at the Department of Homeland Security has read the book? Or are the too busy looking for nail clippers in carry-on luggage at JFK Airport?

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