Internet at its most vulnerable

Submarine cables keep the world connected via the Internet, although it is also one of the gates of vulnerability. From Hong Kong to Marseille, France, there is an extensive cable that carries the signal across Asia, through Africa, to Europe. It meanders through the South China Sea and into Europe. This cable will provide connections to more than a dozen countries, from India to Greece. Last June 7, when it was cut off, millions of people were disconnected and had to face temporary blackouts for a long time.

Under the designation AAE-1, the cable had a break in its overland passage through Egypt. During this incident, another cable was also damaged and the causes of this problem have not yet been determined. Rosalind Thomas, managing director of SAEx International Management, acknowledged that “some seven countries and a number of premium services were affected.” He also raised the need for the creation of a submarine cable connecting Africa with Asia and the United States.

Those who suffered most from this situation were Ethiopia, with the loss of 90 percent of connectivity, and then Somalia, with 85 percent. A subsequent analysis made it clear that cloud services from Google, Amazon and Microsoft were disrupted. Although connectivity was restored within a few hours, the outage exposed the fragility of the more than 550 undersea Internet cables worldwide.

Under the sea, the entire Internet

Today, the global network of submarine cables forms a large part of the backbone of the Internet. The vast majority of the world’s data is transported over it. It is connected to the networks that feed the cell phone towers and wifi connections. Submarine cables connect from New York to London, as well as from Australia to Los Angeles.

Some seventeen cables lying on the seabed are no thicker than a hose. This makes them vulnerable to damage that can be caused by ship anchors or earthquakes. The last two decades have seen the emergence of routes that have created an Internet bottleneck. The Suez Canal is one of the regions with the largest maritime transport and movement of goods. A chaotic situation was experienced in 2021 when the container ship Ever Given got stuck in the canal.

Egypt is today an area of great attention due to the number of submarine internet cables from all over the world that pass through the region. Many of them make landfall in the land of the pyramids before reaching the Mediterranean Sea. Some 17 percent of the world’s Internet traffic passes through these cables on Egyptian territory. This is because it is one of the shortest routes to link Asia with Europe. The Red Sea, being shallow, also tends to have many cable cuts due to its fragility. More than 100 incidents are recorded each year, with sabotage as a cause for concern.