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Though officially used for oceanographic research, the 5,372-ton vessel is actually a mothership for two unmanned submarines capable of cutting data cables laid deep on the ocean floor.
Though it is unlikely that Russian businesses will meet Tuesday’s deadline – which would also severely affect any Western businesses still in the country – such a move indicates Moscow’s rush to dust off plans which have been in the offing for several years to build a “Russian firewall” against Western cyber attacks.
So far, Russia has resisted launching cyber attacks which may draw Nato powers into the Ukrainian conflict.
One reason for this, experts say, is that it may feel too exposed to retaliatory cyber attacks by the West.
“There is certainly the risk that Russia will take the cyber offensive once it feels insulated enough. Though whether this would be the case by Tuesday is negligible,“ said cyber analyst Hans Horan, of Sibylline strategic risk group.
To this end, the Yantar may actually begin by cutting Russia’s own cables, before moving on to others.
Some 98 percent of global communications and £7 trillion in daily financial transactions are transmitted along these undersea cables, and Russia – widely thought to have been behind the cutting of the cable connecting Norway with an Arctic satellite station in Svalbard in January -already has form.
Such is the threat that Britain last year ordered the building of a new Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance Ship to provide “360 degree protection” in detecting these underwater activities.
GCHQ director Robert Hannigan said: ”In hybrid warfare you could tweak the UK economy, even without bringing it to its knees, by just cutting a few [fibre-optic cables]…could make life pretty difficult without going for full conflict.”
Russia has been trying to insulate itself from the World Wide Web for many years to mitigate the impact of Western surveillance.
“Though it’s much cheaper and easier to use foreign tech. Foreign source codes can be an access point to plant a backdoor to your system. Remember the arguments we had here about Huawei,” said Horan.
While the war in Ukraine has reprioritised Putin’s need to act now it is, however, unlikely Tuesday’s deadline will be met.
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“And if there is no equivalent, someone will have to be hired and to create it which may take considerable time.
“The idea of moving all public resources to a domestic domain also carries complications.
“The whole thing is going to be an expensive process at a time when the economy is crashing, and there are no indications that the state will be footing the bill.”
Around 150 undersea cable failures are reported every year, mostly due to shark attacks and fishing nets, and these are repaired by their owners, which include Google and Facebook.
“It’s certainly plausible that Russia may go on to kill two birds with one stone by cutting Europe’s undersea cables once it has cut its own,“ said Horan.
“Cutting just one may just cause more pressure to be put on others. But cutting a number of undersea cables would cause a shut down of services until repairs are made,
“And finding out exactly where the connection was severed may take some time.”
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