Tuesday, December 10, 2019

By Cormac O’Keeffe

The naval service is “lost in the dark” in trying to protect critical national infrastructure in Irish waters, according to one of its officers.

Lt Shane Mulcahy: Subsea cables are a soft target, as they are fragile, in a concentrated area, and are in remote areas that are hard to monitor.

Lt Shane Mulcahy said around three-quarters of transatlantic cables in the northern hemisphere pass through or near Irish waters, most along a corridor less than 160km wide.

He said these cables have been described as the “corporate and physical backbone layers of the internet”, through which up to 15m financial transactions are made daily.

He said Ireland is “most assuredly not immune” to having the cables in its waters tapped, and said Russian ‘spy ship’ Yantar is “no stranger to European, and even Irish, waters”.

In the Defence Forces Review, published by the Irish Defence Forces, Lt Mulcahy urged the State to protect “critical national infrastructure”, upon which our digital economy depends. He said:

Without systems capable of subsurface detection linked to data analysis systems ashore, the naval service remains quite literally lost in the dark

Lt Mulcahy said subsea cables are a “soft military target”, which are fragile, geographically concentrated, and often in remote and hard-to-monitor areas.

He said the “relative ease of severing a subsea cable” means a threat could come from non-state actors and that to avoid accidental fishing damage, their locations are known.

Lt Mulcahy said reviews of Ireland’s critical national infrastructure are needed to “address the vulnerability of our undersea cable networks and consider the adequacy of our maritime assets to counter the risk”.

He said: “So long as Ireland remains socially and economically married to the vital but delicate network of glass laying just offshore, it is high time we considered protecting it.”

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