As a result, companies, governments, and individuals can send and receive more data than ever before. In 1993, Internet users transmitted around 100 terabits of data in a year; today, they send about 150 terabits every second. And this number is expected to exceed 1,000 terabits by 2020, fueled in large part by the expansion of cellular networks in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Nearly all that data will travel along the seabed. Imagine, then, how damaging a determined attack on undersea infrastructure could be. One need only consider the destruction possible from natural causes and inadvertent interference. In 2006, an undersea earthquake near Taiwan snapped nine cables. It took 11 ships 49 days to finish repairs, while China, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam lost critical communication links, disrupting regional banking, markets, and trade. In 2007, Vietnamese fishermen seeking to salvage copper from a defunct coaxial cable pulled up active lines instead, disrupting Vietnam’s communications with Hong Kong and Thailand for nearly three months and requiring repairs that cost millions. Given the scarcity of equipment and personnel, it could take months, if not years, for the United States to recover from a large-scale, coordinated assault. Attackers wouldn’t even need to target U.S. assets, since U.S. traffic flows through more than a dozen other countries that serve as major hubs for the global undersea cable network.