The Unintended Consequences of Secrecy

Washington, D.C., is underlaced by miles of fiber optic cables that carry information for the nation’s intelligence agencies. The exact locations of these cables are kept secret so that terrorists and other enemy agents can’t snip the lines. The secrecy has indeed kept the cables safe from terrorists. Instead, the danger comes from well-meaning construction crews, who occasionally sever these sensitive conduits during the course of an innocuous building project. That’s when the men in the black SUV’s show up. (HT: Schneier) [%comments]


tim

This story has been making the rounds for the last week but I don't buy it. Cables are moved and cut all the time. Especially in busy high dense areas like Tyson's Corner. No one gains anything by showing up in a bunch of black SUVs. What were they going to do? Arrest someone? Fix the cable themselves? And if they didn't know work was being done that impacted cables they owned or leased than that doesn't put them in any positive light.

And secrecy doesn't keep cables safe from terrorists. Everyone knows where cables are buried. Its just not a high value target which is why its rare that cables are cut intentionally.

Eve Griliches

This is why the Gov't has been so interested in optical encryption. But, it's still easier to send two guys across the street with DVD's then it is to encrypt optically and send any distance further than a few km's.

Keep in mind fiber optics needs to be in place for high speed imaging/video sharing, and the Gov't is reasonably scared that tapping into these cables is indeed possible. It's so possible, they've done it! So, with that I'd say the Black Vans are just a coincidence, but paranoia about stealing data is real.
Eve Griliches
Telecom Equipment
IDC

keith

A pipeline crosses private property (the office devopment, not the rail/hwy projects mentioned) that the owner does not know about, and the deed presumably does not mention? And it's for use of the government? Sounds like a takings clause constitutional case for just compensation, unless it can be shoehorned into boilerplate utility company easements...

Nosybear

LMAO! Security window dressing, like putting your shoes on the band instead of in the bin at airport security for "security reasons." I'm picturing a terrorist on a backhoe trying to take out a multiply-redundantly routed network or even better, a "do not rent" list at construction equipment companies.... Paranoia will destroya....

Eric M. Jones

I think all the secrets have already gone out the door with their employees anyway. So what's the worry?

A friend of mine, a big name in fiberoptics, patented several kinds of communication fiberoptic cables. Hooray! said all the paranoid government aagencies and financial services. Untappable communications! He set about studying the problem and soon patented several really clever way of tapping the fiberoptics signals....

Chance

"No one gains anything by showing up in a bunch of black SUVs."

If a secure line is cut, the agency in question would want to know what happened. How do you know it is a construction accident until you send someone out there to look? This isn't that big a deal.

blue92

"This is why the Gov't has been so interested in optical encryption. But, it's still easier to send two guys across the street with DVD's then it is to encrypt optically and send any distance further than a few km's."

That doesn't seem to make much sense.

Why wouldn't they be unable to encrypt data sent optically? Encryption on DVDs shouldn't be much different from data sent over a wire. Encryption is algorithmic and should not depend on the medium.

Now they might be concerned about contextual frequency analysis if they were on an public cable, or might have some other practical reason...