A cyber-security and data protection expert is warning that the disruption to undersea telecommunications cables by planned Russian manoeuvres next week “could be very significant.”
World leading and internationally recognised expert Brian Honan of BH Consulting, who has acted a special advisor to Europol’s Cybercrime Centre said that undersea maps show that there are important cables connecting Ireland, the EU and the rest of world exactly 140 nautical miles off the Irish south, which are under threat.
The Russian Navy has announced planned live gunnery and missile firing, from February 3rd to 8th and are just on the edge of the drop-off into deep water. It is also within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Coming at a time of heightened tension between Russia, Ukraine and the West, this highlights Ireland’s strategic position.
The Irish Aviation Authority has raised concerns about the exercises with the Russian government. The live firing will disrupt civilian air traffic over the area.
It is also in the shipping lanes connecting Europe and North America and in the general area of a myriad of submarine communication cables (SCC).
These connect Europe and America, mostly routing through Ireland or the United Kingdom. They are vital for internet and military communications.
Mr Honan said: “A disruption to these submarine cable lines would be very concerning and significant. We are an island nation and it’s quite easy for undersea cables to be interrupted. It not only would affect communication to and from Ireland but to Europe, the US and the rest of the world.
“Large multinational technology companies and data centres are headquartered and based here such as Google and Facebook which would be affected which in turn would have a concerning effect on other businesses and the economy.
“While the larger technology companies would have their own core back-ups other businesses which use their platforms would be hampered and obviously would have a very negative impact.”
In 2015, Irish telecommunications company Aqua Comms set up a $300 million cable to connect the US to Dublin, and on to London and the European continent.
More than 300 undersea cables, which run a total of 550,000 miles, keep the internet running around the world.
Ireland occupies a strategic position on Europe's western flank, it is comparatively less defended. The Irish Naval service has several offshore patrol vessels which will try to monitor the situation and the air arm has two CASA CN-235 maritime patrol aircraft.
However, Ireland is not a member of NATO and does not benefit from integrated European military radar detection systems nor NATO-level equipment while Irish defence capabilities are limited compared to Russia. NATO has warned Russia against any moves to invade Ukraine.
Mr Honan added: “Ireland is within the EU and strategically important to both the US and UK. There is also the capability by the Russians and others to tap or monitor the undersea cables by an aggressive nation state. A lot of this information or date would be encrypted, but there are capabilities there to ‘listen in’ on information.
“Any transatlantic undersea cables being disrupted would impact communications, financial transactions, and take entire countries offline.”
The Irish Government has asked Russia to reconsider the exercise.