East West Institute warns of a 9/11 type attack on global Internet

World’s top ‘track 2 diplomacy’ institution and New York-based think-tank, the East West Institute has warned of a ‘9/11 type’ of attack on the undersea cables that connect India to the rest of the world.

Addressing telecom secretary R Chandrasekhar and officials of the home ministry, the founder of the 30-year-old think-tank, John Edwin Mroz, said he expects a “massive 9/11” type of attack on the Internet very soon. Mroz was instrumental in leading to the establishment of an agreement in 1984 between the Nato and the Soviet block to alert each other of troop movements.

“We have to address the cockpit door in cyber security,” Mroz said, referring to the security flaw in cockpit doors that allowed the 9/11 terrorists to force their way in and attack the plane pilots. “We have to do it before the 9/11 type of attack occurs,” he added. The institute specializes in building bridges between major governments to overcome global security concerns.

In its presentation, the Institute highlighted the possibility of terrorist attacks on the core backbone of the Internet — the under-sea cables that carry nearly all of its traffic from one corner of the world to another.

“There are three major chock points for the Internet and unfortunately, India is right in the middle of all three,” said Karl
Rauscher, chief technology officer of East West Institute.

The three ‘chock points’ for undersea cables are the Luzon strait between China and Taiwan, the Malacca strait between India and Sri Lanka and the Red Sea between Saudi Arabia and Africa.

Between Africa and Asia, for example, all the handful of undersea cables connecting India to Europe and the US pass through an area that is only around 500 metre wide, raising the possibility of a bomb attack or a simple ‘snag and snap’ attack.

The cables are laid at a depth of around 1 metre under the sea-bed, but are often exposed due to movement of the sand.

India’s only alternate route of connectivity to the US, through the Luzon straits, too can be compromised by a co-ordinated attack, leaving the country without connectivity to US and Europe.

“The results can be disastrous.. especially due to the dispersed nature of the world’s financial services industry.. For big financial hubs like London or New York, there is just no plan B if the Internet goes down,” Rauscher added.

The alternatives suggested by the group primarily revolve around opening up of non-traditional routes for laying sub-sea cables and easing the movement of repair ships through national waters.

The telecom secretary, on his part, said India is setting in place a ‘command structure’ to address issues of cyber security.