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Forget Terrorists. Watch Out For Backhoes

Terrorists may represent some <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=205901631">danger to power plants</a>, but human carelessness is far more likely to damage critical infrastructure. Given the events of the past few days, it's hard to believe that al-Qaida would even bother plotting to take down the Internet or a power station when everyday bumbling does the job for them.

Thomas Claburn

February 1, 2008

1 Min Read

Terrorists may represent some danger to power plants, but human carelessness is far more likely to damage critical infrastructure. Given the events of the past few days, it's hard to believe that al-Qaida would even bother plotting to take down the Internet or a power station when everyday bumbling does the job for them.On Friday, Flag Telecom said that a second undersea telecom cable had been cut, magnifying the disruption of Internet traffic in Egypt, India, and other nations in the Middle East that began Wednesday when a different cable was cut. Repairs are expected to take a week.

Flag didn't say what severed its cables. Conspiracy theorists no doubt will suggest an intelligence service or terrorist organization is behind the incident, but plain, old incompetence is a more probable suspect. (You dropped your anchor where???)

There is, after all, precedence for stupidity. In September, a backhoe cut a number of underground fiber optic subterranean cables in Thailand, temporarily limiting Internet access. In September 2005, utility workers in Los Angeles dug in the wrong place and left almost 2 million people without power.

As a paper on the reliability of fiber optic cables points out, "the highest failure mode is 'backhoe blackout.' "

It's time for the TSA to start looking for backhoe ignition keys.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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