undersea cable internet traffic

UK’s undersea internet cables are cut up to 40 times a year minister reveals

Undersea communication cables that ferry internet traffic between the US and the UK are cut as much as 40 times a year, according to the Digital Minister.

Despite a recent report that found that undersea cables are at high risk from attack, Lord Ashton of Hyde said that the majority of the incidents were simply due to accidents. 

He said that there is built-in resilience to the system with 11 different landing sites for transatlantic cables and so if one was broken the system would continue to operate.

The minister pointed out the cables belonged to companies and so it was their responsibility to carry out repairs and seek damages.

Lord Ashton was responding to concerns raised in the House of Lords over the security of undersea cables between the UK and other countries.

At the end of last year, the head of the armed forces said the military had prioritised the protection of undersea cables because of the threat posed by Russia. 

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach said the vulnerability of communication lines under the sea posed a “new risk to our way of life” as the Kremlin modernised its navy.

There are more than half a million miles of underwater cables that carry much of the world’s web traffic.

Opposition spokesman Lord Griffiths of Burry Port pressed the minister on why a matter of security was being handled by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

He said: “Perhaps he can reassure the House that the Department for Culture Media and Sport will indeed be in the closest possible relationship to the Ministry of Defence to reassure us on the question of security.”

Lord Ashton said: “The reason DCMS is answering this question is that we are responsible for coordinating the resilience of the telecoms sector in the UK.

“Telecoms is one of the UK’s 13 critical sectors. We are in very close touch with our other departments particularly the Home Office, who are responsible for GCHQ, and also the Ministry of Defence.”

Former Navy chief and Labour peer Lord West of Spithead highlighted the threat posed by Russia, which had invested in submarines capable of carrying out attacks on underwater cables.

At the same time, the UK’s undersea warfare capability had declined since the end of the Cold War, he added.

In January, Australia’s security agency banned an undersea cable made by Chinese tech company Huawei from connecting to the Australian broadband network over spying fears. 

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