PROTECTING THOSE UNDERWATER CABLES
Many regular readers here probably have heard of the Allied success at decrypting the wartime military cables of Nazi Germany codenamed project Ultra. This British wartime feat involved the best cryptographers and mathematicians in the world, including Alan Turing, in an effort to decode the messages of Germany's "Enigma" encryption machine in real time. In effect, the project was an effort to reverse engineer the machine. It is well-known that Sir Winston Churchill, wartime prime minister of the United Kingdom, knew in advance of the Luftwaffe's plans to bomb Coventry. He faced the difficult decision of whether to evacuate the city, and thereby tipping off the Germans that their codes and machine had been broken, or to let the bombing along with its great loss of life to occur, and maintain the secret. He chose the latter. While debates continue to this day about the decision he took, the secret was protected, and enabled the Allies to predict other key German moves and respond to them. The impression is thereby created that the Germans were intelligence and counter-intelligence dunderheads, and that an Allied victory was inevitable due to this intelligence coup.
On a side note, one of the enduring mysteries of this narrative has been why the Germans did not suspect that their vaunted Enigma machine had been cracked. In point of fact, British author Kenneth Macksey wrote a fascinating book on precisely this subject (Without Enigma: The Ultra and Fellgiebel Riddles), in which he convincingly argues that German General Erich Fellgiebel, in charge of all electronic communications for the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW, effectively, Hitler's high command headquarters) suspected as much. Interestingly enough, Fellgiebel was involved in the Operation Valkyrie assassination-bomb plot against Hitler of July 20, 1944, and was arrested and executed for his part in the plot.
What usually gets overlooked in these histories is another alleged fact, namely, that the Germans had successfully staged their own little intelligence coup by tapping the underwater cables between Washington and London, and had also managed to "de-scramble" British and American phone scramblers, and were listening in to the private phone conversations of Churchill and Roosevelt themselves, and the transcripts were passed along to Hitler himself. Many if not most dispute this claim for a variety of reasons. The difficulty is that those conversations were more likely to have been via radio-phone than underwater cable. But the point is, they could have been intercepted by the Germans (and probably were), and some of them were perhaps decrypted.
But it's that security of underwater cables itself that is the focus here in this story uncovered by "M.", an appropriate initial since we're talking about cyber security:
Note the following:
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned "the lights could go out" if national infrastructure was lost, and the cables were "incredibly important".
He also told the BBC's Andrew Marr that Russia had "taken a deep interest" in the cables and the UK would be "deeply exposed" without further measures.
Hundreds of thousands of miles of undersea cables circle the globe, providing internet and communications links between nations and continents.
The Ministry of Defence said they are "vital to the global economy and communications between governments" and are at "risk of sabotage" due to "submarine warfare".
The new Multi Role Ocean Surveillance ship will be fitted "with advanced sensors and will carry a number of remotely operated and autonomous undersea drones which will collect data".
The vessel, staffed by 15 people and due to come into service in 2024, will carry out operations in both UK and international waters.
When I read this, I could not help but think of that unverified story about the Germans tapping the underwater cables and listening in on Churchill's and Roosevelt's conversations, but more importantly, I couldn't help but think of those coordinated attacks on internet cables in California and Arizona a few years ago. As the article points out, these underwater cables are "vital to the global economy and communications between governments." In other words, they're vital to international financial clearing, among other things.
But there's a new player - or rather, a new technology - on the scene that was not, presumably, available in World War Two, and again, the article mentions it: drones. As the article indicates, the British Royal Navy is planning to deploy a ship whose mission is to monitor those cables and presumably to spot any attempt to tap into them, and to do so using a variety of underwater drones, which raises the spectre - pun intended - of drones being used to tap into those cables. One may extend this principle to include the use of drones to tap into, or to counter drones tapping into, land-based cables. It takes little imagination to see how drones could be used to access relatively secure sites or cables and to plant viruses or other code into information systems, allowing eavesdropping and information modification to take place.
If that's not enough high octane speculation, there's one more implication of the article, namely, that the U.K.'s response is a response to something already occurring, namely, cyber-warfare that is organized and international in extent. It brings to mind those stories in recent months and years about the US army training for underground warfare... using drones...
See you on the flip side...
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