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US warns Google and Meta of risks of Chinese repair ships tampering with undersea internet cables

US warns Google and Meta of risks of Chinese repair ships tampering with undersea internet cables


U.S. authorities have warned some big tech companies, including Google and Meta, about potential vulnerabilities in undersea cables that carry internet traffic across the Pacific Ocean, The Wall Street Journal reports. Concerns center on Chinese repair ships, particularly those operated by state-owned company SB Submarine Systems (SBSS). The vessels have been found to intermittently hide their locations from radio and satellite tracking services, raising suspicions among U.S. officials.

The issue highlights significant security risks to the undersea fiber-optic cables that Silicon Valley giants like Google and Meta own and rely on. These companies rely on specialized construction and repair companies, some of which are foreign-owned, and U.S. authorities are concerned that the security of both commercial and military data could be compromised.

The Journal said U.S. officials have privately briefed companies like Google and Meta about the potential threat posed by Chinese companies like SBSS.

In particular, SBSS ships such as “Phu Hai”, “Phu Tai” and “Bold Maverick” are regularly tracked by satellite tracking systems, sometimes for days at a time, while sailing near Taiwan, Indonesia, and other Asian coastal regions. He has disappeared for a long time. These data gaps are unusual and have raised concerns among officials and industry experts.

The undersea cables that carry nearly all of the world's international internet traffic become vulnerable when brought to the surface for repairs. U.S. authorities have warned that repair ships could be involved in eavesdropping on data, mapping the ocean floor for reconnaissance, or stealing intellectual property used within cable equipment. There are also concerns that these ships could lay cables to the Chinese military.

According to the report, spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said he was not aware of the U.S. concerns and defended the right of Chinese companies to operate legally. Nevertheless, the tracking beacons on SBSS vessels have been intermittently out of service over the past five years, raising further suspicions.

SBSS was established as a joint venture between China and the UK, with China Telecom holding a majority stake and currently in the process of acquiring the remaining stake from UK-based Global Marine Systems. Members of the Chinese Communist Party serve as members of the SBSS management team.

The United States has taken steps to protect submarine cables since the Cold War, but China's military expansion in the South China Sea has recently raised concerns. To reduce risk, the US government is funding several Pacific cable projects and investing in infrastructure through companies such as Google. Additionally, US cable carrier SubCom receives government payments to ensure critical repairs are made.




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