Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the West has made a coordinated effort to isolate Russia, cutting off financial and computer services dependent on the Internet. These moves could backfire now that Russia has been forced to operate independent of the West. An attack by Russia on offshore infrastructure, such as Internet cables, would cause catastrophic economic damage to the West, but significantly less to an increasingly isolated Russia. Putin seems to be preparing options for retaliation that may have seemed unthinkable during more peaceful times.
On April 20th, the UK’s Daily Telegraph warned that Vladimir Putin is preparing to attack the UK (20-Apr-2023):
“For a long time it was only speculation. Now we know for certain: Russian spy ships are mapping wind farms and key cables off the British coast. There can be only one reason for this—to learn how to sabotage UK and European critical infrastructure in the event of a full-scale war with the West.”
Euronews echoed a similar warning under the headline, Putin's ghost ships spying on critical infrastructure 'in case of war' (20-Apr-2023):
“Russia is running a fleet of 'ghost ships' in the Baltic Sea with their transmitters turned off—as they map offshore wind farms, gas pipelines, power, and internet cables in the waters around the Nordic nations for possible sabotage attacks.”
Defense officials have been warning governments about Russia’s threat on critical infrastructure for some time, but little has changed. In 2017 the BBC ran a headline, Russia a 'risk' to undersea cables, defence chief warns. The article explains this warning while highlighting potential economic disruption should this occur:
“The UK's most senior military officer has warned of a new threat posed by Russia to communications and internet cables that run under the sea.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the chief of the defence staff, said Britain and NATO needed to prioritise protecting the lines of communication.
He said it would ‘immediately and potentially catastrophically’ hit the economy if they were cut or disrupted.
The cables criss-cross the seabed, connecting up countries and continents.”
The sabotage last year of the Nord Stream pipelines, “which caused natural gas to leak into the sea and atmosphere, highlights the threat posed by undersea attacks on critical infrastructure. In addition to natural gas pipelines, the submerged internet cables that keep the world connected could be an appetizing target for rogue actors” the American Enterprise Institute said (30-Sep-2022). The majority of these cables are owned and operated by private companies answerable to shareholders and not governments.
In March 2022, France 24 reported Threat looms of Russian attack on undersea cables to shut down West’s internet, saying that:
“US President Joe Biden warned this week that Russia is considering attacks on critical infrastructure. One of the scenarios that has been mooted since the start of the war in Ukraine is that Moscow will attack undersea cables to cut off the Western world's internet.”
TeleGeography Submarine Cable Map: https://www.submarinecablemap.com
Breaking Defense provided an analysis of this threat in February 2022, providing three reasons why nations should be increasingly worried about possible sabotage of undersea cable infrastructure:
“‘One, it’s very easy. They span thousands of miles, they’re not guarded,’ Jones explained. ‘You can get down there if you want to create mischief. You can go down in a mini-submarine which you can easily hide in a mothership, and go down there with hydraulic shears and cut the cable, or possibly tap into a relay or repeater station.’
Secondly, ‘the impact is severe: national economies depend upon these undersea cables,’ she said. For example, she cited the paper’s finding that the US Clearing House for Interbank Payment Systems, known as CHIPS and familiar to anyone who has worked overseas for a US company, does some $1.8 trillion in monetary transactions among 22 countries every single day.
And the third thing is that ‘bad actors can enjoy plausible deniability.’”
Not only has Russia been shown to be mapping undersea infrastructure, but also successfully tested disconnecting from the Internet in 2019. China has developed a similar strategy. Meanwhile, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, society has become almost entirely dependent on digital processes which typically run from massive, centralized data centers interconnected around the globe by these very same undersea cables. It would seem that Russia is far more prepared for this scenario than the West and there is no sign that anything has changed in recent years. There are no business continuity plans to deal with such a widespread coordinated attack.
The economic consequences of such a disaster would be global and immediately catastrophic. Imagine getting up one morning to find that international communication has been severed. It is no longer possible to communicate outside of continental borders. Text messages fail to be delivered. Foreign news sites are unavailable or are no longer updated. Emails are returned as undeliverable, many key web applications are failing, international banking is brought to a standstill, and global stock markets go into free fall. At first, there is no explanation for what is happening, and so as time ticks on, people being to panic. Speculation mounts that there has been a highly organized state-sponsored global attack on the Internet. A run on the banks begins, and accounts and withdrawals are limited or frozen. As the outage turns from hours to days, store shelves empty and available supplies are snatched up (when have we seen that before?). In the midst of this chaos, Russian tanks are rumoured to be rolling west into Europe and south through Turkey, but information is slow and inconsistent; details are unclear.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine, this hypothetical picture may have seemed farfetched. Today it is chillingly plausible.
The pandemic we have lived through has taught us just how vulnerable society is and that such an event as a global Internet outage can suddenly and dramatically change life as we know it. Those of us who have lived through a days-long outage, such as the massive power outage in eastern Canada and the United States in 2003, understand what this kind of event can be like. What would it be like if such an event was combined with a massive Russian attack? If the experts are right, it could take weeks to repair cables following such an attack, and recovery efforts would be subject to sea weather conditions.
Speaking of Rosh (Rus) or Russia, Bible prophecy leads us to expect just such an event, culminating in the invasion of Israel:
"Prepare yourself and be ready, you and all your companies that are gathered about you; and be a guard for them… In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people on the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate; they were brought out of the nations, and now all of them dwell safely. You will ascend, coming like a storm, covering the land like a cloud, you and all your troops and many peoples with you” (Ezekiel 38:7-9).
These events come at the time of a clash between the king of the north (Russia) and the king of the south (Britain and her allies) as described by the prophet Daniel:
“And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over… And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him” (Ch. 11:40,45).
This will be a dark day, when once again the lights go out all over Europe. It may also be that the Creator will turn the elements against the wickedness of the earth (including that which is pushed over the Internet) as well as Russia and her great company at that time when “he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.”
WIRED, a technology magazine, has described a different threat to the global Internet and its super highways under the headline, A Bad Solar Storm Could Cause an 'Internet Apocalypse', “The undersea cables that connect much of the world would be hit especially hard by a coronal mass ejection” (26-Aug-2021):
“While severe solar storms are extremely rare, the stakes are perilously high. A prolonged global connectivity outage of that scale would impact nearly every industry and person on Earth…
A moderate-severity solar storm in 1989 knocked out Hydro-Québec's grid and caused a nine-hour blackout in northeast Canada, but that too occurred before the rise of modern internet infrastructure.”
Such an event would disrupt civilian and military infrastructure alike. Whatever happens, we see that the world is very vulnerable, like a house of cards ready to fall. When this happens, it will bring down the pride of man and people will have no place to turn but toward God:
“Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help… Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them…” (Psalm 146:3,5-6).
So, trusting in our God we do not fear what the future holds. But, now is the time to ensure that we are on the Lord’s side. This has been Daniel Billington with you this week as we continue to look at the news in the light of Bible truth.