Undersea cable cuts disrupt Internet access

Internet and telephone traffic between Europe and the Middle East and Asia was hampered Friday after three major underwater data lines were cut, according to France Telecom.

The cut occurred on lines between 07:28 and 08:06 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on lines in the Mediterranean sea that connect Sicily to Tunisia and Egypt, the telecommunications company said.

The cuts were to the Sea Me We 4 and Sea Me We 3 lines, which connect countries between Singapore and France as well as the Flag cable route, which stretches from the U.K. to Japan, a France Telecom spokeswoman who asked not to be named said.

France Telecom isn't sure what caused the cut, she said. "We have two assumptions. The first is that it could be an underwater earthquake," she said. "Or it could be simply a ship in the area which has cut the cable."

A maintenance boat is en route to the site of the cut, but it will not get there until Monday, and it will take as many as two weeks for the situation to return to normal, she said.

Many countries were affected by the outage, including India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Malaysia, which all lost a significant percentage on their voice traffic to Europe. For example, 82 percent of India's voice traffic capability to Europe was out of service early Friday, although that situation has now improved, the spokeswoman said.

Internet traffic also has been hit by the incident, according to Danny McPherson, chief security officer with Arbor Networks. His company's sensors reported that between 3,000 and 5,000 Internet routes in the region were off-line early Friday morning. These routes are the Internet's equivalent of dialing prefixes, meaning that computers that used them would be completely unreachable until service was restored.

"It's significant that it was lost," he said "For them it was in the middle of a business day on Friday."

A large number of these came back on-line around 17:00 UTC, McPherson said. Most likely this happened after ISPs (Internet service providers) that had been knocked off-line had found alternate routes for their traffic.

It's hard to estimate how many Internet users were affected by the cut, but the Internet has a total of close to 300,000 such routes, he said.

This is not the first time this year that these cables have been cut. Earlier this year both the Sea Me We 4 and Flag cables were cut. Flag's cable was reportedly cut by ships anchored off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt.

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