Who needs to conduct a sophisticated cyber attack to bring down a country's Internet service when all you need is a shovel?
There were news stories this week in the London Guardian and the Wall Street Journal (here and here) regarding a 75-year old Georgian woman by the name of Aishtan Shakarian who was scavenging for copper accidentally damaged with her shovel the international fiber-optic cable carrying 90% of Armenia's Internet traffic. While some Armenian telecom companies were able to switch to connections running through Iran, most of the 3.2 million citizens of Armenia were without Internet service for up to 12 hours, as were some portions of Georgia and Azerbaijan.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
"The Georgia section of the international cable, commonly called the country's West East fiber-optic backbone, is laid underground along railway tracks and operated by Georgia's state railway company and its partners. The line comes to Georgia from Bulgaria, crossing the Black Sea to the Georgian port of Poti. It later forks into Armenia and Azerbaijan."
The cable is supposed to be heavily protected, says the Guardian article, but "landslides or heavy rain may have exposed it to scavengers," it reports. When Ms. Shakarian, dubbed the "the spade-hacker" by the local media, cut into the cable, she set off alarms signals which helped police locate her. Ms. Shakarian was arrested, but a severe jail sentence is unlikely given her age, the stories say.
In 2008, submarine cables off Egypt were damaged twice (see here and here) which disrupted Internet, data and telephone communications across Europe and the Middle East. Also in 2008, a backhoe operator severed a fiber-optic cable causing a major land line, mobile phone and Internet shutdown for more than one million people in Queensland and Northern New South Wales, Australia.
Update 14 Apr 2011
Not much new about this incident, but there is this a story here from earlier this week published by the Sydney Morning Herald that states the woman, Aishtan Shakarian, who is accused of damaging the fiber-optic cable, denies doing it. Ms. Shakarian is quoted as saying that she isn't strong enough to have damaged the cable:
"I did not cut this cable. Physically, I could not do it."
The Morning-Herald says that the Georgian Interior Ministry notes that all claims of innocence aside, Ms. Shakarian "has already confessed to cutting the cable."
The Herald also states that ".. Georgian Railway Telecom insists that the 600-kilometre cable has 'robust protection' ..."
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.