The installation of Google's new transatlantic undersea cable, which will pass through or near Irish waters, will expose the “growing concern” across the EU and US at Ireland’s failure to secure critical infrastructure, a top expert says.
Google this week announced that it is going to build its 'Grace Hopper' cable across the Atlantic, with construction to be completed by 2022.
Data cables are vital to global communications infrastructure and carry, according to Google estimates, some 98% of the world’s data.
This cable is named for computer scientist, Grace Brewster Murray Hopper, whose work was critical in the development of the COBOL programming language.
Irish Defence Forces experts estimate that around 75% of transatlantic cables in the northern hemisphere pass through or near Irish waters.
Some 15m financial transactions pass through the cables daily.
The new cable will connect the US with Britain and Spain, with the cable to Britain landing in Bude, Cornwall.
Dr Edward Burke, director of the Centre for Conflict, Security and Terrorism at University of Nottingham, said the proximity of the new cable to Irish waters will generate international security interest, competition and concern: “As things currently stand the Defence Forces lack the capabilities to secure subsea cables in or near Irish waters from Russian or other interference.
"Ireland is an integral part of the highway of 21st century transatlantic communications — the security of which is seen as vital to the critical national infrastructure of the US, the UK and the EU.”
He added: “There is a growing concern and impatience in foreign capitals about Ireland’s lack of initiative to secure these vital communication links, particularly in the wake of an uptick in activity by the Russian navy and air force off the Irish coastline.”
Last December, Lt Shane Mulcahy, writing in the official Defence Forces Review, said the Irish navy is “lost in the dark” on this.
He said we are “most assuredly not immune” to having the cables in our waters tapped, and said Russian ‘spy ship’ Yantar is “no stranger to European, and even Irish, waters”.
Lt Mulcahy urged the State to protect “critical national infrastructure”, upon which our digital economy depends: “Without systems capable of subsurface detection linked to data analysis systems ashore, the naval service remains quite literally lost in the dark.”
Dr Burke said this issue must form part of the forthcoming high-level review of the Defence Forces: “The two most vulnerable, critical areas of national defence at present are the protection of sub-sea cables and signals intelligence — countering the large-scale theft of data and intellectual property from the Irish public and private sector.
He said the high concentration of global tech giants in Ireland, many of which have their European headquarters here, is an additional reason why the protection of the data cables is such a critical issue: “The manipulation or interference with sub-sea cables, both by signals intelligence and by naval activity, is a key threat in the escalating competition between states in Europe."
"Ireland is very much in the middle of that battlespace, due to the physical position of critical transatlantic sub-sea cables but also because of the presence of major international tech firms within our borders.”