China Spying: The Internet’s Underwater Cables Are Next - Bloomberg
Underwater eyes on China.
Photographer: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam K. Thomas/U.S. Navy via Getty Images
As the West considers the threat posed by China’s naval ambitions, there is a natural tendency to place overarching attention on the South China Sea. This is understandable: Consolidating it would provide Beijing with a huge windfall of oil and natural gas, and a potential chokehold over up to 40 percent of the world’s shipping.
But this is only the most obvious manifestation of Chinese maritime strategy. Another key element, one that’s far harder to discern, is Beijing’s increasing influence in constructing and repairing the undersea cables that move virtually all the information on the internet. To understand the totality of China’s “Great Game” at sea, you have to look down to the ocean floor.
But now the Chinese conglomerate #Huawei Technologies, the leading firm working to deliver 5G telephony networks globally, has gone to sea. Under its Huawei Marine Networks component, it is constructing or improving nearly 100 submarine cables around the world. Last year it completed a cable stretching nearly 4,000 miles from Brazil to Cameroon. (The cable is partly owned by China Unicom, a state-controlled telecom operator.) Rivals claim that Chinese firms are able to lowball the bidding because they receive subsidies from Beijing.
A similar dynamic [as in 5G equipment] is playing out underwater. How can the U.S. address the security of undersea cables? There is no way to stop Huawei from building them, or to keep private owners from contracting with Chinese firms on modernizing them, based purely on suspicions. Rather, the U.S. must use its cyber- and intelligence-gathering capability to gather hard evidence of back doors and other security risks. This will be challenging — the Chinese firms are technologically sophisticated and entwined with a virtual police state.
And back doors aren’t the only problem: Press reports indicate that U.S. and Chinese (and Russian) submarines may have the ability to “tap” the cables externally. (The U.S. government keeps such information tightly under wraps.) And the thousand or so ground-based landing stations will be spying targets as well.