The Red Sea is the most vulnerable part of the Internet

The Internet has long been part of our lives, and now it seems something monumental and unshakable. If any failures occur in it, they are local in nature. However, few people think about the fact that the operation of the network depends entirely on cables stretching thousands of kilometers, laid along the bottom of the oceans and seas. They account for 98% of all traffic. Some cables connect countries, while others connect entire continents. For example, the AAE-1 (Asia Africa Europe-1) cable connects Hong Kong with Marseille. Its length is 25 thousand kilometers. Damage to such cables could not only leave many countries without the Internet, but also disrupt the operation of cloud services owned by Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other IT giants.

The Red Sea is the most vulnerable section of the Internet. At the bottom of the Red Sea, several telecommunication cables are once again damaged. Photo.

At the bottom of the Red Sea, several telecommunication cables are once again damaged

What is the Internet cables

As we have previously described, the basis of the Internet is 13 root DNS servers, as well as a number of child servers through which access is provided to servers in data centers where data is stored. All servers are located on different continents. Therefore, cables are used to connect key elements of the Internet into a single network.

Data transmission via cables is carried out through optical fibers as thick as a human hair. The cable is a large bundle of such fibers placed in a protective sheath. Currently, hundreds of undersea cables are laid to transmit data between continents. The length of the longest of them is 40 thousand kilometers — it connects Germany and Australia. Special vessels are used to lay such cables.

What are Internet cables. Map of Internet cables connecting continents. Photo.

Map of Internet cables connecting continents

Vulnerability of cables in the Red Sea

Laying cables along the ocean floor, on the one hand, simplifies the task, since there are no obstacles on the way, and on the other hand, it ensures their safety. The risk that the cable will be damaged as a result of the actions of intruders or any natural or man-made action is minimized.

However, there are areas where Internet cables are very vulnerable. One of them is the Red Sea. At its bottom there are concentrated a dozen and a half cables that connect Europe, Asia and Africa. Experts estimate that at least 17% of the world's Internet traffic passes through these cables. Many of them are no thicker than a hose.

The cables in the Red Sea run over a distance of 2,000 kilometers, and they also cross 160 km of land in Egypt, through which they enter the Mediterranean Sea, thereby connecting Europe with Asia.

Vulnerability of cables in the Red Sea. The Red Sea is the most vulnerable area for cables of the global Internet. Photo.

The Red Sea is the most vulnerable section for global Internet cables

Over the past 20 years, this route has repeatedly shown that it is the most vulnerable on Earth, as cable damage regularly occurs here. For example, on July 7, 2022, the AAE-1 cable mentioned above was damaged in this section, as a result of which 7 countries and a number of cloud services were affected. The hardest hit countries were Ethiopia, which lost 90% of its traffic, and Somalia, which lost 85%.

There are various reasons for this vulnerability. Firstly, the Red Sea is not very deep — its average depth is 490 meters. The region is known to be troubled. In addition, there is a section where cables run overland.

Four telecommunications cables damaged in the Red Sea

On Tuesday, March 5, 2024, the news spread throughout the world that four cables in the Red Sea were damaged in the waters that are under the jurisdiction of Yemen. According to Sky News, the damage to these cables affected 25% of traffic passing through the Red Sea on lines transmitting data to Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The Gulf countries and India suffered the most from damage to the cables . The cables from Seacom, TGN, AAE-1, and EIG were damaged, as reported by the Hong Kong company HGC Global Communications. Currently, specialists are working to redirect traffic to other routes.

Four telecommunications cables were damaged in the Red Sea. The reasons for the damage to the cables at the bottom of the Red Sea are still unknown. Photo.

The reasons for the damage to the cables at the bottom of the Red Sea are still unknown

The reason for the damage to the cables is still unknown. Suspicion primarily fell on the Yemeni Houthis, for example, the Israeli publication Globes accuses them of this. Moreover, the first attacks on the cables were carried out at the end of February. However, the Houthis themselves deny their involvement and blame the British and US military for the incident.

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Since this is not the first time cables have been damaged in the Red Sea over the past month, we can assume that the situation will repeat itself. In this case, there will be serious disruptions to Internet communications between Europe, Asia and Africa. This shows that the Internet, without which modern civilization is already unthinkable, is actually much more vulnerable than we imagine.