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The AT&T Outage: Sabotage vs. Hacking

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on April 09, 2009

There has been a lot of buzz this week about hackers, possibly sponsored by the Chinese government, mounting cyber-attacks on the U.S. power grid. Today we learned that there’s more than one way to cripple a utility system, and they aren’t all high tech.

This morning, it appears that parties unknown slipped into a manhole in San Jose and cut four fiber optic cables carrying a total of 504 strands of fiber(details courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle). The cut knocked out telephone and Internet service to a substantial chunk of Silicon Valley. Verizon, which uses the cable for Internet backhaul, was also affected. A bit later, four cables belonging to Sprint and AT&T were cut in San Carlos, further disrupting service in the Valley.

Police are investigating the cuts as crimes. AT&T has been involved in tense labor negotiations with the Communications Workers of America, but there was no immediate link apparent between the labor dispute and the damage. The CWA immediately condemned the vandalism.

The less here is that while it’s scary stories about shadowy hackers that command the front pages, it’s often guys with manhole lifters and bolt cutters, or sometimes just backhoe operators who make a mistake, who are most likely to cause the real damage.

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Reader Comments

Bob Pollock, CEO

October 11, 2009 12:45 PM

If you would like a real Cyber prevention story that also includes a solution for preventing this type of crime contact me. We are about to launch and perhaps BW would like a "Scoop." Even the Canadian Govt Dept of Public Safety (DHS), The US Navy & AF, and even a large Metro NY County's network, and others are Preventing Network Breaches, this one included. Please email me with your contact info:

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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