Occam’s Razor

I don’t think it’s crazy to say that a more parsimonious explanation for Iran nearly dropping off the face of the internet

Router Location Current Index Response Time (ms) Packet Loss (%)
misschaos.chaos-studio.com China (Shanghai) 81 181 0
gsrmum.vsnl.net.in India (Mumbai) 72 270 0
core-mgl.cbn.net.id Indonesia (Mangole) 79 205 0
router1.iust.ac.ir Iran (Tehran) 0 0 100
cs1mr1.comsourceone.com Japan (Tokyo) 85 146 0
gateway.ix.singtel.com Singapore 68 217 12
tpnoc1-osr-transit.ix.giga.net.tw Taiwan 74 149 12

is that we’re installing the hardware and software to allow us to read every packet going in and out of south-west Asia, and we don’t want them to know it.

(Chart from Internettrafficreport.com, story courtesy of Slashdot)

Related: New submarine can tap fiber-optic cables (hat-tip AC)
Related: Hackers cut cities’ power (hat-tip Sharpr)
Must read: Don’t Forget by Mike Tanji

5 thoughts on “Occam’s Razor”

  1. I have my doubts. The US was tapping adversary lines, including undersea cables, for decades without causing a break in service. (See, for example, the Ivy Bells program).

    My personal version of Occam's razor is this: If it's a choice between a very clever conspiracy and exceptional stupidity, bet on stupidity.

  2. I wonder if Aaron will comment, as he gave me the idea discussing the recent Skype outage…

    My understanding is that fiber optics are untappable without breaking the signal, because transmission of information relies on minutely correct reflection of light. (A benefit that electromagnetic wires do not have.)

    Nor do I think a “very clever conspiracy” would be needed — merely use of tools we have to an end we would like.

  3. I see from the updates you already have information on the USS Jimmy Carter (launched 2005). I'd just add that tapping the line is becoming increasing easy. A security newsletter [1] was reporting as early as 2003 that “Used nefariously, optical taps allow access to all voice and data communications transiting a fiber link. Modern commercial network equipment and network configurations cannot detect most types of optical taps…” and “Packet-sniffer software filters through the packet headers, only extracting those packets which match a specific telephone number, IP address or other characteristic.” There's reason to believe the NSA was tapping fiber optic cables in the 1990s, but found it hard to process the torrents of data. [2] With improvements in software and increases in computng power (note the increasing power requirements for Ft. Meade), I suspect it's been going on for a few years now.

    What I find more interesting is how easy it is to cut off some countries from the web. If it can be done by accident, what does that imply for war? And note the more a state tries to limit and control access points (for example, Saudi Arabia), the easier it becomes to cut it off, with all that implies for economic and military vulnerability.

    [1]http://www.networkworld.com/newsletters/sec/2003/0303sec1.html?page=2
    [2]http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9595_22-529826.html

  4. Thanks for the links — the ZDNet piece was particularly interesting.

    The hard part of tapping fiber-optics is not being noticed — it's possible to repair broken connections, but unlike electromagnetic tapping, there has to be an interruption of service if one taps the fiberoptic cabling itself.

    Perhaps the great majority of massive oceanic cuts are not being reported, but three very significant ones in a short time frame seems really out of place.

    Catholicgauze also noted this [1]

    [1] http://catholicgauze.blogspot.com/2008/02/internet-outages-between-egypt-and.html

  5. I feel like I'm saying “You know, it may be HAARP” after a rush of news-stories about the ionosphere getting a bit warmer, or something.

    We have the stated means, stated motive, clear opportunity, stated desire, etc., to do this. I'm not saying we are, but it's pretty likely that cyberbattleground (which perhaps was first tred on by Russians in Estonia [1]) is being layed.

    [1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/russia/article/0,,2081438,00.html

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