Google, Meta Warned That Undersea Internet Cables at Risk for Chinese Espionage: Report

US officials warn Google and Meta that China-controlled repair ships may tamper with subsea cables, posing risks to US data security.By Ariel Zilber, New York Post
May 20, 2024

US national security officials have reportedly warned Google, Meta and other firms that their undersea internet cables could be at risk of tampering by China-controlled repair ships.

The concerns are reportedly centered on underwater fiber-optic cables in the Pacific Ocean that are partially owned by the Big Tech firms and used to maintain the flow of data from the US to Asia. The difficult-to-access cables require maintenance from specialized firms, including some owned by China.

State Department officials have flagged concerns about a particular firm called SB Submarine Systems, which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and has seemingly taken steps to hide the location of its repair ships by turning off their transponders, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The report, which cited unnamed officials familiar with the situation, said the feds are worried that any tampering with the cables could threaten US commercial and military data. Senior Biden administration officials have also reportedly received briefings on the concerns.

In one suspicious incident that took place in 2019, an SBSS vessel called the Bold Maverick purportedly turned its transponder on and off several times during a four-day period while floating in the same one-mile patch of ocean off the coast of Singapore.

Other instances in which SBSS ships disappeared from tracking systems occurred near Taiwan and Indonesia, the Journal reported, citing a review of shipping data.

SBSS is majority owned by state-controlled China Telecom, which was banned by the US in 2021 over national security concerns. One of the firm’s top executives is a member of the Chinese Communist Party.

The behavior of the SBSS-owned vessels is said to be unusual for cable repair ships – though one source familiar with the company said it was possible that poor satellite coverage was to blame.

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