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Prisco: ‘Massive vulnerability’ exists with submarine cables

By Dan O'Shea posted 26 Oct 2022

As we wait for quantum computers to have enough logical qubits to break current encryption and wonder how many store now/decrypt later attacks already have occurred, one portion of the world’s Internet infrastructure is extremely vulnerable–submarine cables.

That is according to John Prisco, founder, president and CEO of Safe Quantum, Inc., who spoke Tuesday morning at IQT’s Fall Quantum Cybersecurity event in New York City.

There are 426 submarine cables around the world that carry 97% of the world’s Internet traffic, but most of which are very poorly protected and can have the data they carry compromised with an optical tap without breaking the ongoing connection.

“Where is there maximum vulnerability? It’s in submarine cables,” Prisco said. “So you know the old story, ‘Why do you rob banks? Because that’s where the money is.’ Well, where would you go to do a data harvesting attack? You would do it in these submarine cables.”

There have been past reports of nuclear-powered submarines being used for optical tapping, and Prisco noted attacks could be carried out in other ways, such as near terrestrial landing stations where maintenance may be done on the cables. Also worth noting is that the South China Sea is major “choke point” for many international submarine cables, many of which have some Chinese ownership

Prisco said he believes a combination of quantum key distribution and post-quantum cryptography “at the same time provides a depth of defense. Using both in concert is something that I think will be successful.”

However, the West, and specifically entities in the U.S., have been more focused and invested in PQC recently than they have been in QKD, while China has done more at longer distances with QKD than any other country in the world. “I think when you look at the totality of what they’ve done, the rest of the world should be taking this as seriously as China does.”

Dan O’Shea has covered telecommunications and related topics including semiconductors, sensors, retail systems, digital payments and quantum computing/technology for over 25 years. 

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