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.