ENISA – Dive into the Deep Sea: A View of the Subsea Cable Ecosystem
August 31, 2023
The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity ( ENISA ) publishes a report on the subsea cable ecosystem and highlights today’s major cybersecurity challenges.
More than 97% of the world’s internet traffic passes through subsea cables at some point. Subsea cables are a vital component of the global internet infrastructure, and it is critical to protect them from cyberattacks, physical attacks and other threats.
What are the challenges?
With the growing reliance on the internet, and the growing amounts of data being transmitted, subsea cable incidents could cause outages and disruptions. The cable landing stations as well as subsea areas, where many cables are close to each other are considered weak points.
The International Cable Protection Committee in its 2022 report concludes that most subsea cable incidents are accidental, due to anchoring and fishing. Some cable incidents are caused by natural phenomena like underwater earthquakes. In rare cases, system failures are responsible for incidents.
Malicious actions such as sabotage attacks and espionage have to be considered also. Particularly, a coordinated sabotage attack on multiple cables at once could cause significant disruptions of internet connectivity. Repairing subsea cables is complex, takes a long time, and requires highly specialised cable repair ships, only few in the world. While eavesdropping on cables on the seabed is considered unlikely, accessing communications data at the cable landing stations or at cable landing points is feasible, and should be considered as a threat.
Global subsea cable ecosystem in a nutshell
- Subsea cables can fall under a wide range of regulatory regimes, laws and authorities. At national level, there may be several authorities involved in their protection, including national telecom authorities, authorities under the NIS Directive, cybersecurity agencies, national coastguard, military, etc.
- There are also international treaties in place to be considered, establishing universal norms and the legal boundaries of the sea,
- On the private sector side, the subsea cable ecosystem consists of undersea cable owners and operators, integrated suppliers, suppliers without a fleet, owners of installation and repair vessels, and undersea cable maintenance companies.