April 08, 2022

Can fibre internet be hacked?

Fibre optic cables have transformed the level and speed at which we can connect to the internet. Fibre optic technology, which sends data as signals in the form of light pulses, facilitates the transmission of information at the speed of light - truly a game changer in an age of instant communication. Communities around the world are moving to fibre, whenever possible, as it offers a faster, more reliable and less interrupted internet connection.

Along with the advent of fibre cables (as the salvation of our information age) comes the perception that, buried deep below the surface of the planet, they are safe and immune to breaches in security. Many believe that in order to potentially hack into a fibre optic network, one would need sophisticated knowledge, specialised equipment and an illegal set of skills and tools. However, this perception is not accurate.

Why is fibre internet hackable?

The sobering reality is that it is impossible to monitor the entire fibre optic network around the world and, furthermore, the process of hacking is not as complex as many of us believe. According to a recent report from the International Data Corporation (IDC), hacks on fibre technology can occur by extracting light from the fibres and then using analysing, monitoring and recording software to make sense of the stolen data.

The following points are worth considering:

  • Although fibre cables are often hard to detect and largely out of reach, it is also true that these networks may run through rural areas that are largely uninhabited. In some places, they are signposted so that people don’t dig up or damage them – which makes them easily discoverable.
  • The technology and skills needed for hacking fibre optic cables are more available than one would think. Network analysing software, legitimately used by IT professionals, along with a clip-on coupler employed by a cable installer can do the trick, in some cases. “How to” videos already exist online and there are many case studies available for those who wish to learn from previous hackers.
  • In the early days of fibre optic technology, signal weakness in the system may have indicated an intrusion or breach of some kind. However, these days, the networks are more tolerant to data loss, which generally happens as it travels from Point A to Point B, so it takes a lot longer to detect a leak.

Notable cases where fibre has been hacked

There have been a few high profile cases of hacking optical fibre; some for the purposes of industrial or political espionage, others for the theft of financial or personal data, amongst other motives.

In 2000, Deutsche Telekom’s three main trunk lines were hacked at Frankfurt Airport and in 2003 Verizon (the American telecommunications company) suffered a breach of financial data in its optical network. Such incidents highlight the need for organisations, especially those in the sectors of government, healthcare, insurance and finance, to practice high caution when they transmit sensitive data via fibre lines globally.

What can be done about it?

Fortunately, there are some steps that individuals and organisations can take to make hacking your data either a lot more difficult, or ideally, a pointless exercise. Let’s take a look at what is advisable in terms of best practice:

1. Encryption

There are many IT and cloud services that provide a strategy for resilient encryption of sensitive and critical information, both when it is stored in the cloud, on devices or databases; as well as when it is sent. This protects your data both “in-house” and “in-flight.

Data is sent as an encrypted text which is delivered as readable to an authorised user, but would arrive as garbled nonsense to a hacker who doesn’t have the “key” to decrypt it. This adds a layer of security into your system and acts as a deterrent for hackers who can’t then do anything with that data, even if they can get hold of it.

Another method for protecting sensitive data whilst sending is to hide the optical channel that the information is sent through within the existing noise on the channel, so that only the intended receiver will know of its existence and be able to access it.

With these types of systems in place, it becomes a lot more difficult for hackers to do what they do. Nonetheless, organisations dealing with sensitive information need to be vigilant and not ignore anything that presents as a glitch, bug or anomaly – these all point to potential danger and need to be followed up with immediately.

2. Monitoring

Having physical control over who has access to the fibre optic cables and devices and checking constantly for any irregularities in the power supply can help you to minimise a potential breach. Some people have security systems in place like sensors, which monitor for any physical disturbances and if you operate in certain locations, it may be possible to invest in owning your fibre supply so that you can physically secure and manage your network.

There are also companies that help businesses to design and monitor their network to ensure maximum levels of safety. If your system is monitored, then any small changes will alert your power screening devices and sensors and any untoward activity can be picked up immediately.

3. Access Control

While fibre internet is obviously ideal for companies with a large number of users, it can be a source of concern and a potential security threat that so many people have access to a fibre optic network. Limiting and carefully controlling who has access to the network helps to avoid internal hacking, for example from employees with dubious intentions.

4. Quality Control

Another thing that helps in the safeguarding of important data is ensuring that, when taking the steps above, you invest in high quality fibre optic systems. Because the market is growing so fast, there are a lot of inferior devices being developed and sold and although they offer a similar design at a reduced cost, they are also accompanied by a related drop in quality – one that can make a real difference when it comes to potential hacking.

In sum, although fibre internet is evidently hackable, there are many steps that can be taken by organisations and individuals to avoid this happening, or at least to minimise risk. In an age of information, personal data is highly valuable and should be treated as such by all who store and send sensitive and important information.

SEACOM Business provides a range of modern IT security solutions, from leading software to full end-to-end protection for your company’s computers and servers. These solutions are necessary for any modern enterprise that uses fibre networks and the cloud. For more information or to get a quote for our various cyber security solutions, email us at marketing@seacom.com or leave us a message.

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