what we know about the sabotage of fiber optic cables in several major cities in France

“Hey hop, a morning without internet”, “Internet and mobile network failure in Reims”, “Freebox disruption in eastern France” : Here are the messages we were able to read on Twitter, Wednesday, April 27th. The night before, fiber-optic cables carrying large amounts of data were cut off, causing severe network disruptions in several major French cities, including Grenoble, Besançon, Reims and Strasbourg.

Although fiber optic cable breaks are common, they are usually the result of human error, for example during road works. But in the early hours of Wednesday afternoon, Digital Secretary of State Cédric O recognized from “cable cuts”that the Free operator has called “malicious acts.” Here’s what we know about it “attack on an unprecedented scale”according to the French Telecommunications Federation (FFT).

Several major cities affected

On Wednesday morning, many French people had difficulty connecting to several major cities in the Grenoble region, Besançon, Reims, Lyon, Alsace and the Île-de-France. Very quickly, reports from Internet users multiplied on social media and the site that specializes in detecting Down Detector access problems.

The subscribers of the Free operator and, to a lesser extent, of SFR, claimed to be deprived of an Internet and television connection. Its competitor, Bouygues Telecom, “do not use links affected by these failures”explained the group, which was therefore not affected by these disruptions, as was Orange.

After all, the Zone ADSL site had recorded 9,741 fixed network failures in France over the past 24 hours. At 6 p.m., the connections were “restored to affected areas”then announced the FFT on behalf of all operators. “The cable repair work is very heavy, however, and is still going on today.” specified.

It cuts “long distance” interregional cables.

According to initial findings, these are “long-distance” interregional fiber-optic cables that pass through motorways, railways and waterways that have been deliberately cut at three points on the Paris-Lyon, Paris-Strasbourg and Paris-Lille links. .

As revealed by the specialist site Numerama, the cable breaks would have occurred almost simultaneously, “around 3:20 am, 3:40 am and 5:20 am”. Tuesday to Wednesday night. The backbone of an Internet network, the “backbone” is used to interconnect Internet traffic between different geographic areas using very high speed fibers.

The most affected operator, Free assured Twitter at noon that the “incidences” they were “circumscribed” and the “Resolving Residual Issues”. He clarified it“About 1% of subscribers have been affected since 4am.” The operator uploaded photos that obviously showed cut wires, without specifying where they were taken.

Operators quickly organized to re-establish the connection by alternative routes. “It’s a bit like highways are cut off and traffic on national roads has to be diverted.”Sami Slim, CEO of Telehouse, one of the Internet traffic hubs in France, told AFP.

“Malicious acts” probably coordinated

For interested operators and those familiar with the subject, this is certainly a voluntary act. In a press release issued on Wednesday evening, the French Telecommunications Federation and the operators Bouygues Telecom, Orange, SFR and Free so doomed “firmly these acts of malice.”

The fact that these are three incidents, in three different places, separated by hundreds of kilometers, makes the thesis of an accident very unlikely. “Excavators do not cut off the Internet in the middle of the night around 3:40 am”pointed out Nicolas Guillaume, manager of the alternative operator dedicated to Netalis professionals, in the columns of Numerama.

“It’s an almost professional act, there are several coordinated attacks across the country with a few minutes difference.”

Michel Combot, Director General of the FFT

a franceinfo

“Is it an act of digital terrorism? Maybe. There was a big impact, because the coordination of the cable attacks was done well, by people who inevitably know the network.”, added Nicolas Guillaume. For Philippe Le Grand, president of InfraNum, the federation that brings together all French manufacturers of digital infrastructure, this “irresponsible aggression” it is likely to cause “dramatic consequences, such as delay in rescue operations”.

No claims found

A preliminary investigation was opened on Wednesday into “deterioration of property that could harm the fundamental interests of the Nation”, “obstruction of an automated data processing system” and “criminal association”, the Paris prosecutor’s office announced. The investigations were commissioned by the DGSI, internal intelligence and the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police (DCPJ).

The trail of political activists is not ruled out, according to franceinfo, although at this stage no complaint has been found by the gendarmes who have carried out the findings in the various target locations. “This operation requires good technical knowledge”points out a source of intelligence interviewed by franceinfo.

“Not everyone knows where a long-distance internet cable trap is. This is a first clue.”

a source of information

a franceinfo

Michel Combot scores with franceinfo in “increased acts of vandalism, burned pylons, cut cables for which the perpetrators do not incur sufficient deterrent sanctions”. “The challenge is to hunt down and convict the perpetrators”add.

An unprecedented attack

Over the past two years, more than 200 relay antennas have been damaged, most often burned, by anti-5G activists, ultra-leftists or anarchists, according to our information. But malicious acts against fiber optics are much rarer.

In March 2020, telecommunications cables were intentionally cut off in Ile-de-France, Vitry and Ivry (Val-de-Marne), temporarily depriving tens of thousands of Orange subscribers of Internet access while data have been disrupted.

Rebelote in May 2020: in the midst of confinement, more than 100,000 Orange customers were deprived of Internet or mobile services after the cable cut in the rectifier of several municipalities in the Val-de-Marne and part of the south east of Paris. Again, these are acts of vandalism, but they would have been the act of a single person, according to the elements advanced at the time by Orange, unlike the attack on Wednesday, which would have been the act of several authors. “Never before has an attack of this magnitude been directed at the underground Internet infrastructure”says Michel Combot.

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