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Crime The Internet Network

San Francisco Fiber Optic Cable Cutter Strikes Again 198

HughPickens.com writes: USA Today reports that the FBI is investigating at least 11 physical attacks on high-capacity Internet cables in California's San Francisco Bay Area dating back to at least July 6, 2014, including one early this week. "When it affects multiple companies and cities, it does become disturbing," says Special Agent Greg Wuthrich. "We definitely need the public's assistance." The pattern of attacks raises serious questions about the glaring vulnerability of critical Internet infrastructure, says JJ Thompson. "When it's situations that are scattered all in one geography, that raises the possibility that they are testing out capabilities, response times and impact," says Thompson. "That is a security person's nightmare."

Mark Peterson, a spokesman for Internet provider Wave Broadband, says an unspecified number of Sacramento-area customers were knocked offline by the latest attack. Peterson characterized the Tuesday attack as "coordinated" and said the company was working with Level 3 and Zayo to restore service. It's possible the vandals were dressed as telecommunications workers to avoid arousing suspicion, say FBI officials. Backup systems help cushion consumers from the worst of the attacks, meaning people may notice slower email or videos not playing, but may not have service completely disrupted. But repairs are costly and penalties are not stiff enough to deter would-be vandals. "There are flags and signs indicating to somebody who wants to do damage: This is where it is folks," says Richard Doherty. "It's a terrible social crime that affects thousands and millions of people."
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San Francisco Fiber Optic Cable Cutter Strikes Again

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Call the Cable Guy. He needs a friend anyway.

  • Routing around (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @08:20AM (#50031855) Homepage

    At a large scale, the internet was designed to route around individual problems such as this.
    Can't this same principle be applied on a smaller scale?

    • Re:Routing around (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2015 @08:36AM (#50031925)

      I'm not sure you understand the scale of the fiber being cut.

      • Re: Routing around (Score:4, Informative)

        by bwohlgemuth ( 182897 ) <[bwohlgemuth] [at] [gmail.com]> on Thursday July 02, 2015 @09:45AM (#50032377) Homepage
        Agreed. Some of these cables are 600+ count fibers or are multiple bundles within the conduit.
      • Re:Routing around (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2015 @10:38AM (#50032759)

        So the Internet was designed with resilience unless someone has a strong pair of garden shears?

        Just goes to show that security is 99.9% people just being nice and not wanting to fuck things up for the rest.

        • Re:Routing around (Score:5, Informative)

          by schnell ( 163007 ) <me&schnell,net> on Thursday July 02, 2015 @12:01PM (#50033609) Homepage

          So the Internet was designed with resilience unless someone has a strong pair of garden shears?

          The Internet will do just fine. Your personal ability to access it, watch a movie or dial 911 will not.

          The big networks all have many data centers and diverse physical routing paths between them. But most people seemingly fail to realize that your house, your neighborhood - heck, maybe even your county if you're rural - probably does not. There is more than one physical path to get data from a colo facility in San Francisco to one in Seattle (even if it adds a lot of latency). There is probably only one physical way to get data to your house. Yes, even your cable provider and the telco almost certainly share a conduit somewhere near you. Mostly that's because there are simply a limited number of good rights of way to run fiber (frequently railroad tracks, gas pipelines, etc.) in any given area.

          And that's also because it makes doesn't make financial sense to spend the money to ensure that your house has two redundant cables coming out of it that take two separate paths out of your neighborhood to different COs, etc. That's true not just for houses but in many cases for cell towers, Central Offices and other telecom points of presence that make last-mile connections rather than backbone connections. So that's why a fiber cut is so bad - everyone served locally by that fiber will be out of luck, even if the Internet as a whole is not.

        • We shouldn't have to design things to prevent this kind of act. We've gone a long time without having idiots perpetrate this level of jackassery. Fiber being installed fairly recently compared to other utilities it just isn't practical to completely protect every inch of every run. We can do our best to protect it from backhoe cuts, but trying to make every inch physically inaccessible to a determined moron is not going to be feasible reality in may areas.

          • We shouldn't have to design things to prevent this kind of act.

            That's debatable. But in the real world you do have to design against the random mis-placed back-hoe bucket, a truck going off the road and hitting a relay cabinet, a sperm whale attempting to mate with your undersea cable and good old lightning strikes. Which are sufficiently random that protecting around - or designing around - random damage is still pretty much necessary.

            I suspect that there has been insufficient paranoia in the people choos

        • It has resiliance across the network. Outages in Sacramento has not distrupted the internet outside of Sacramento, Chile is still connected to Iceland. There was never a concept that every user would have multiple redundant connections.

    • Sounds like routing software picked up the down link and shunted traffic to the backup link. But yeah, this is akin to trying to push a bowling ball through a garden hose... Sorry, couldn't think of a car analogy.

    • Re: Routing around (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2015 @08:49AM (#50031987)

      There should be both logical redundancy (take a different path) and physical redundancy (diversified paths on any one logical link). I've done backbone work for these and other major players.

      Of course, while much is, plenty isnt. Or you'll have documented A/B paths that shouldnt ever share a single point of failure but in reality run side-by-side for miles in places.

      And thanks to that, most never notice the dozens of fiber cuts/maint. activities that can occur on any large network every night.

      I always suspect an inside job on things like this. Sure, sometimes its a crackhead hunting for copper. But too many of these occur a just the perfect point of failure.. or people know which two runs to hit simultaneously.... and there are a lot of overworked, poorly treated and disgruntled employees in this field.

      • Re: Routing around (Score:4, Informative)

        by aaarrrgggh ( 9205 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @10:02AM (#50032507)

        A ways back a broker got us a diagrammatic fiber map for a region (200x200 miles) so we could review options for siting a data center. With the limited level of detail and some driving around you can quickly detail things out. If you understand how common-trench utilities work, it isn't hard to determine sensitive areas.

        Just saying it doesn't take much inside information if you are willing to open a set of manholes in two locations and cut everything in and out at the same time.

        I am surprised though that more of the manholes aren't alarmed though. It is relatively easy to do, and for meet-me manholes we always had them on each bolt.

    • That costs money, A basic requirement of N+1 redundancy where N is any shared hardware or physical path or capacity. It's pretty trivial to technically to route around this sort of thing it's a significant cost to install diverse routes, buy redundant gear etc etc.

      I just turned up a pair of divergent 10ge metro e links. The vendor terminated both of them on the same CPE gear. So with divergent entrances etc etc etc they literally hopped the fiber from entrance A telco room to entrance B telco room to reu

      • You mean where the telco designs out a fully redundant system (physically diverse entrances into different COs/POPs with layer 1 protection) and the customer says "whoa, that's expensive...I think I'll just order two circuits from two carrier and not tell anyone that I want those diverse..." It's not funny as this happens "all the damn time..."
        • by thrig ( 36791 )

          ... or you buy those two redundant lines and then, some outage later, discover they run through the same Local Exchange Carrier. Good fun!

          My money is on a rogue backhoe for this one.

        • If I have the option I always pick 2 actual providers and stipulate the divergent fiber paths in the contracts.

          Mind you if I have my druthers I'm getting dark fiber so I can run my own C/DWDM over it in a metro setting.

          L1 Protected circuits are nice and all but the CPE box that binds them make it no longer fully redundant. So you still need two of them to let you L2/L3 redundant gear work properly.

    • Can't this same principle be applied on a smaller scale?

      It's not that it's physically impossible. It's that it already cost a lot of money to star-wire it, now you want everything to be looped, or to be in some sort of mesh topology. That means a lot of new trenches, a lot of new fiber, a lot of new repeaters and routers and money.

    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
      When you have one back up route and both can be cut within hours but take longer than hours to fix, you'll have issues. Redundancy to handle fiber cuts are meant to manage the risk of accidental cuts, not targeted cuts.
    • Can't this same principle be applied on a smaller scale?

      Yes, but are you willing to (roughly) double your internet bill to get that redundancy? If you are like most people, probably not.

    • At a large scale, the internet was designed to route around individual problems such as this.
      Can't this same principle be applied on a smaller scale?

      Yes, it can. Just dig a whole bunch MORE trenches around the country at enormous cost.

      The SONET fiber networks were designed to be primarily intersecting rings. Most sites have fiber going in opposite directions (with a few having more than two fibers going off in more than two directions so it's not just ONE big, convoluted, ring.) This is built right into

  • False Flag (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @08:21AM (#50031859) Homepage

    Don't trust the feds one bit. Especially when they say "The pattern of attacks raises serious questions about the glaring vulnerability of critical Internet infrastructure". In other words they want more funding and more control over backbones. These saboteurs will never be caught.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Why don't we have a -1 crackpot mod.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Why don't we have a -1 crackpot mod.

        Because lately, yesterday's crackpot seems to be today's Snowden leak.

      • Re:False Flag (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2015 @09:00AM (#50032049)

        Why don't we have a -1 crackpot mod.

        Because it's getting harder and harder to tell reality and crackpot theories apart.

      • Honestly, things which 10 years ago would have been the domain of crackpots is now 100% fact.

        These days it seems like no matter how paranoid you are, what is really happening is even crazier.

        When law enforcement commits perjury in the form of parallel construction, when they withhold knowledge of their surveillance technology, when they lie about what they're doing without a warrant, when they lie about how many times a technology has led to an arrest .. honestly, it's hard to not assume shady dealings by a

        • by gtall ( 79522 )

          Damn, you caught them. It's a government conspiracy to...to...what was that again your imagination thought up?

          • I have no idea if it was the government or not.

            I'm just no longer willing to dismiss out of hand that it was, and no longer wiling to accept the dismissal of the government being involved as crackpot.

            As I said, stuff which used to be tinfoil-hat-crazy is now pretty much a daily reality.

            Do I think they're beyond sowing some fear to be allowed to declare it under their control? Not even a little.

            In fact, given everything else we know has actually happened, it's disturbingly plausible.

            You simply can't be para

        • Nope. Anyone with a shovel and a knowledge of these systems can cause all sorts of havoc. Cut the right fibers in the right places and you can make life miserable for a number of carriers. Especially for those running "slightly oversubscribed" IP networks.
        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

          "Honestly, things which 10 years ago would have been the domain of crackpots is now 100% fact."
          No. I keep hearing this but you guys must have lived on another planet. The fact that all governments sucked up just about all international communications dates back to the invention of the telegraph and maybe back to the mail.
          Any idea that they were not monitoring all clear text transmissions over the internet frankly I find just dumb. As far as meta data that was always up for grabs.
          False flag operations? That

          • by Agripa ( 139780 )

            False flag operations? That is in the realm of tin foil hats and crackpots. Frankly the rest of it is just common knowledge to anyone with a brain.

            Documents eventually released by the DOJ show that they BATFE was doing this in their operation Fast and Furious; one of their justifications for selling guns to Mexican criminals was to justify further gun control laws and expanded power for law enforcement. The FBI does the same thing by encouraging people who otherwise would not to commit "terrorist crimes";

      • All moderations, positive or negative, are essentiallly crackpot mod points.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      It's really not hard to think of increased Fed control over fiber being a cover for NSA tapping activity. If the FBI is monitoring your fiber and something goes down, it's easy to say "we're on the job, nothing got cut, you must have an error in your network".

      It used to be such ideas were tinfoil hat, but post-Snowden nothing seems tinfoil hat anymore.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    junkies might similarly claim that taking away their heroin is a dangerous social crime.

    • by Jawnn ( 445279 )

      junkies might similarly claim that taking away their heroin is a dangerous social crime.

      And they'd be as guilty as you are at making that lame comparison. Yes, yes, we all know that there are some users out there for whom various content available via the Internet is like a drug, but to lump all Internet traffic into that category is beyond stupid.

  • "A terrible social crime". Sounds like he's mad because his wife couldn't read Facebook.

    • "A terrible social crime". Sounds like he's mad because his wife couldn't read Facebook.

      Or he can't keep a boner when his redtube videos frequently pause for buffering.

    • by WSOGMM ( 1460481 )

      "A terrible social crime". Sounds like he's mad because his wife couldn't read Facebook.

      I experienced the outage all the way in the placer county area. My internet, phone and cable were affected since they all are run through wave broadband. Yes, having no internet for a day sucked, but it got me thinking. Those vandals cut a single line, and I effectively lost 3/4 of my modes of communication.

      I had my cell phone, so I was able to call and text. If a coordinated group of terrorists or a nation wanted to attack US soil, it wouldn't be that hard to cut out the people's communication. Our commun

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @08:38AM (#50031935) Journal
    Rockefeller built up Standard Oil in the era of unfettered capitalism. It was a no holds barred fight. He had secret agreements with railroad companies to undercut his competition in transportation costs. As his oil competitors went bankrupt he picked their properties on the cheap. Then he bypassed the railroad companies by building his own pipelines to transport oil. He had enemies in the oil business, railroad business and his workers. His enemies hounded him for decades and eventually that billionaire was reduced to fleeing in a rickety car dodging federal subpoena. But they did not sabotage his pipelines.

    You could understand the railroad companies not sabotaging pipelines because the railroads too have long equally vulnerable railroads and they did not want to trigger retaliatory sabotage from Rockefeller. But his disgruntled bankrupt oil competitors, the labor they would not be above sabotage. It was really war. Carnegie hired the Pinkertons to kill agitating workers. His henchman was shot, and survived, by one of the workers. Corrupt sheriffs would break up labor organizers and the anger and hatred was mutual and ran very deep.

    Still, mile after mile of tin pipes traversing and crisscrossing Ohio, Western PA and later Indiana were left unmolested. How was that defended? How could one defend the fiber optic lines?

    • Possibly because the Pinkertons would come in and beat/shoot people? Or, weren't these pipes generally running through private land. A simple tactic would be to align interests. The landowner only gets paid for days when the oil flows. Then the landowner would keep an eye out.
  • While cutting cable to disable infrastructure could aid destabilization efforts in a thousand ways,

    the FBI might also be investigating thieves seeking copper.

    Go figure.

    • While cutting cable to disable infrastructure could aid destabilization efforts in a thousand ways,

      the FBI might also be investigating thieves seeking copper.

      Go figure.

      Or fiber optic Christmas tree enthusiasts seeking fiber.

  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @08:42AM (#50031949)

    Best guess on who it is ?
    Somebody that lost their job in IT because they were too old, didn't fit the diversity quota, or just had a SOB for a boss
    Someone who is sick of trying to pay rent in SF ?
    Criminal extortion scheme we haven't heard the details of yet ?

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      You left out Aliens. Cue the Greek guy with the Electric Hair.

    • Most likely a disgruntled field tech or contractor who likes making people miserable or a field crew who wants to make significant overtime.
    • Or maybe someone who wanted a breather:

      The shift workers howled and laughed and were pelted, and broke ranks, and the jelly beans managed to work their way into the mechanism of the slidewalks after which there was a hideous scraping as the sound of a million fingernails rasped down a quarter of a million blackboards, followed by a coughing and a sputtering, and then the slidewalks all stopped and everyone was dumped thisawayandthataway in a jackstraw tumble, and still laughing and popping little jelly bean eggs of childish color into their mouths. It was a holiday, and a jollity, an absolute insanity, a giggle. But . ..

      The shift was delayed seven minutes.

      They did not get home for seven minutes.

      The master schedule was thrown off by seven minutes.

      Quotas were delayed by inoperative slidewalks for seven minutes.

      From 'Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman', Harlan Ellison.

  • Fake signs (Score:5, Funny)

    by aurizon ( 122550 ) <bill.jacksonNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday July 02, 2015 @08:42AM (#50031955)

    We need to immediately install 10,000 fake buried cable signs at scattered locations, and remove the real ones...

    • Re:Fake signs (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gtall ( 79522 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @09:57AM (#50032481)

      It worked for Kansas, the band. As related by the band, when they were starting out they were to open for Aerosmith once. Steven Tyler had gotten a reputation for pulling the power cables to the amps if the opening band was doing too well, it might make Aerosmith look bad when they came on afterward. Kansas' stage manager had been informed of Tyler's antics, so he rigged up the amps to take power from the other side of the stage using hidden cables and put in fake cables to where all could see.

      So Kansas goes on and kills, Kansas was very hot, tight band. During the set, Tyler is pacing the sideline backstage getting more and more incensed. Kansas does one encore, Tyler is livid. They do a second encore and Tyler loses his brain cell and rips out the fake cables, which only pissed him off more since that didn't stop Kansas. After that song, Dave Hope, Kansas' bass player, threw down his bass and went to over to explain to Tyler using very colorful language what he was doing wrong. Dave Hope was a big guy back then so it was very impressive. Afterwards, other members of Aerosmith apologized to Kansas for Tyler's behavior.

  • by O('_')O_Bush ( 1162487 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @08:44AM (#50031965)
    It is possible they are dressed up as Telco workers, but given their knowledge of the fiber lines, they couldn't possibly BE Telco workers...
  • by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @08:44AM (#50031969)

    "thousands and millions of people."

    Make up your mind.
    Which is it.
    Thousands or Millions?
    Why not throw Hundreds and Billions into that sentence.
    Might as well exaggerate all the way and confuse.

  • by Wowsers ( 1151731 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @08:47AM (#50031983) Journal

    Maybe it's the MPAA and RIAA latest attempt to stop people sharing copywritten material on the internet? Didn't they say they want to cut pirates off?

  • by wezelboy ( 521844 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @09:03AM (#50032069)
    A couple years ago, there were a series of fiber cuts in Humboldt County (300 mi. north of SF). They only targeted fiber owned by Suddenlink. The authorities suspected a telecom professional. A reward was offered, but they never caught the person. The cuts stopped after a couple months.
  • When our local fiber run was cut through here, it ended up being ignorant copper thieves.
  • by Hardhead_7 ( 987030 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @09:09AM (#50032109)
    As someone who has a fiber line running in front of their house (literally, there's a "Do Not Dig Here, Fiber" post at the bottom of my driveway), but has access to only DSL, I can't say it isn't tempting.
  • Yes, that would be the primary indicator of trouble. *sigh*
  • by ZippyTheChicken ( 3134311 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @09:44AM (#50032355)
    I live in what might be considered a rural area by some but I am 5 miles from my state capitol. There are underground fiber lines going down the main highway and fiber up my road to about 100 yards from me.. I actually walked down and watched them snake it under a road with a pneumatic torpedo.. cant get it.. the guys who install cable are Russian Illegals hired by a third party contractor for Verizon .. I talked with them for a while .. If our country ever gets attacked a few well placed people in these third party contractor companies that don't get checked will be able to take out our whole country in hours. They will know every weak point.
  • by koan ( 80826 )

    penalties are not stiff enough to deter would-be vandals.

    Yeah cutting cables is a bad thing, but these days I get nervous when I see that sort of talk because it's never as simple as increasing penalties for vandals, something else always gets added.

    "There are flags and signs indicating to somebody who wants to do damage: This is where it is folks," says Richard Doherty. "It's a terrible social crime that affects thousands and millions of people."

    I mean who talks like this? It sounds like someone that didn't rehearse their script enough.
    thousands and millions of people indeed.

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Thursday July 02, 2015 @10:18AM (#50032643)

    I am talking about the FBI : "When it affects multiple companies and cities, it does become disturbing,"

    What I read is "When it happens to citizens, we don't care."

    So apperently they cut of the wrong company or the wrong CEO and now they are disturbed. Before that? Meh.

    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      Or alternatively, "Why don't you share your customer records and data with us. You have statutory immunity. It would be a shame if all of these fiber cuts which are affecting your operations and costing you money were not fully investigated."

  • ... where [slashdot.org] the fiber is going.

  • There was a large Time Warner outage a week or two back... it was blamed on a fiber cut in DC (that fed this area). Makes me wonder if it's just a coincidence...

  • Wah our rent is going up because of bad decisions by the housing commission, lets blame people that have good jobs in tech and force them out by destroying the internet connectivity in the city.

  • This is San Fran - surely it must be a hippie wanting all those silicon valley weenies to get back to nature.
  • There's no need to be racist about it.
  • Check response time?

    I'd rather think that one crew cuts the cable at some place and during that time a second crew installs a listening/delay device in a secondary location, that will be finished before the first cut can be repaired.

  • The cutting process must take some time as the bundle is large and armored.

    The photodetectors receiving the light on each end of the fibers should be able to detect disturbances associated with the fiber being cut AS IT IS CUT. (If you physically disturb the fiber it affects the transmission efficiency.)

    With the appropriate automated analysis (time-delay reflectometry), police could be requested to deploy to the vandals' location before they have even finished cutting through the bundle.

    Alternatively, DHS'

  • Contract telecom workers who rake in the overtime. Eventually you might see a series of evenly spaced cuts on long runs that are calculated so there is too much light loss, entire cable sections need replacement.

    The NSA, who is building out a massive dark fiber intercept network to shunt traffic to Utah and is using the outages as 'cover' as they install separate, secret drop-ins.

    Those who hate our freedoms. You know, those folks who keep ranting about those folks who hate our freedoms, and how you have to

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