The National Security Agency is no doubt licking its lips over the potential intelligence trove of Google’s proposed underwater fiber optic cable, which will span the Pacific Ocean from the U.S. to Japan.
As a former NSA official told VentureBeat, “Easy to tap for sure. If its US to JP, then no need to tap in the middle obviously, just look behind the big red door :)… if its a win would depend on what its replacing, if anything.”
The new proposed fiber optic cable planned by Google and its partners SingTel and China Telecom Global, among others, will begin on the Pacific Coast of the U.S., run under the Pacific, and end up in Japan. The cable is called FASTER, and it will transmit 60 terabits per second.
Google has ponied up $300 million for the endeavor, with the intent to speed Internet traffic delivery times between the two countries. The fiber optic cables are encased in a specially designed glass that is wrapped in a Kevlar-like material to protect them.
Urs Hölzle, Google’s VP for tech infrastructure, had this to say about FASTER on a Google + blog earlier this month:
“At Google we want our products to be fast and reliable, and that requires a great network infrastructure, whether it’s for the more than a billion Android users or developers building products on Google Cloud Platform. And sometimes the fastest path requires going through an ocean. That’s why we’re investing in FASTER, a new undersea cable that will connect major West Coast cities in the US to two coastal locations in Japan with a design capacity of 60 Tbps (that’s about ten million times faster than your cable modem). Along with our previous investments – UNITY in 2008 and SJC (South-East Asia Japan Cable) in 2011, FASTER will make the internet, well, faster and more reliable for our users in Asia.”
A Google spokeswoman did not return an email from VentureBeat for comment.
The NSA has been tapping underseas communications for years. In the 1970’s, they used specially outfitted submarines and divers to intercept communications from a then-Soviet navy cable lying on the floor off of the Kuril Islands. That was “Operation Ivy Bells,” a mission so successful it ran until 1981.
Much has changed since then. Tapping into FASTER will potentially yield the NSA vast amounts of metadata like cell phone traffic, emails, passwords, social media data, and other electronic information. The Internet relies heavily on the hundreds of fiber optics cables crisscrossing both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to handle the data loads.
NSA’s dear friends over at GCHQ, Britain’s main signals collection agency, have been tapping underseas cables for years too, using the system codenamed Tempora. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who now lives outside Moscow, revealed that Tempora vacuums up to 21 million gigabytes of data every 24 hours.
The former NSA official told VentureBeat that these days, submarines are no longer needed. That’s because the cables can easily be tapped before they even enter the ocean. Snowden’s leaks showed this to be true, as accessing “communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past” is one of the many ways the NSA collects international intelligence, according to a comprehensive report in the Washington Post.
But Google may have some sort of ace up their sleeve in making it more difficult for the NSA to tap its pipe, according to a second former NSA official.
“Cables are susceptible for tapping with the right equipment. But Google is a company that works hard to make sure their comms aren’t touched,” this former NSA official said.