Russia could cut Ireland off the internet by cyberattacks and sabotaging undersea cables

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday there were no longer any “moral limits” to stop Moscow from destroying its enemies’ undersea communication cables given what he said was western complicity in the Nord Stream pipeline blasts. Mr Medvedev made the comments on his official channel on the Telegram messaging application.

Ireland’s police believes Russia has dispatched agents there to inspect undersea cables, raising concerns that they could tap or damage the cables at their weak points and thwart global communications, Britain’s The Times newspaper reported Sunday.

Britain and the United States have warned that the Russian Navy could disrupt over $10 trillion in daily transactions by attacking the fiber-optic cables crossing the world’s seas and oceans. Last year, Britain banned the export of submarines to Russia over national security risks including the alleged ability to cut the undersea cables which carry most global internet communications.

Vulnerable undersea cables

The agents sent to Ireland to map the precise location of the seabed cables connecting Britain, Europe and the U.S. are believed to be with Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, The Times cited unnamed Irish police and military sources as saying.

Irish police and military also suspect the GRU of using the country as a base for gathering intelligence on British and European targets. Russia could be engaged in industrial espionage in Ireland, one of Europe’s leading tech hubs with internet giants Google, Facebook and Twitter housing offices there, The Times reported.

“[Russia] may wish to show their capability in order to threaten the West,” John Sipher, a retired senior CIA agent who oversaw operations in Russia, was quoted as saying.

Security expert Mark Galeotti classified Ireland as “a relatively soft target” with nonexistent counterintelligence capacity and a high concentration of global internet assets.

“This is the new battle space of the future,” The Times quoted Galeotti as saying.

Russian Navy mapped undersea cables

The Russians may first have started mapping and monitoring the vitally important transatlantic fibre optic cables off the Irish coast as early as 2014, according to an expert in international studies.

A Typhoon, top, with a Russian Tupolev Tu-142 aircraft. Photograph: RAF/PA

Around 2015, there was an increased frequency in Bear bombers flying down the West coast and around the South-West coast of Ireland, often shadowed by RAF fighters.

The two Russian-flagged ships, the Umka and the Bakhtemir, caused alarm among defence officials late last week, The Irish Times reports.

A trio of Russian offshore vessels loitering off Ireland have raised eyebrows in Dublin, especially after reports that the Irish Navy was unable to muster enough crew to dispatch a patrol ship to the scene.

The concern came after the ships were spotted engaging in unusual manoeuvrer off the Galway coast, in the vicinity of a newly opened subsea communications cable.

The Irish Government is seriously concerned Russia will attack the underwater internet cables connecting Europe with the US off the Irish coast.

The warning was issued by Fianna Fail MEP Billy Kelleher after the mysterious explosion on the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which delivers Russian gas to Europe, in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday.

Three offshore lines of the pipeline suffered serious damage and senior EU officials blamed the Kremlin.

Mr Kelleher stated: “The Russian navy was carrying out manoeuvres off Ireland in January 2022. At the time many people said they were there mapping undersea communications between the EU and the USA.

“The attack on the gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea leads me to believe that Russia would sabotage these cables.”

There are currently 16 cables running under the Atlantic connecting the USA with Ireland, the UK, and mainland Europe but specifically France, Germany and Holland.

Serious concerns over cyberattacks

The Irish Government has been urged to review all its cybersecurity after allegations that Russian spies hacked former British Prime MInister Liz Truss’ private mobile phone when she was UK Foreign Secretary.

There is also a strong suspicion among security experts that the Russian embassy in Dublin – one of the Kremlin’s biggest listening posts in Europe – had some involvement in the spying scandal.

A cyber attack on Irish health service computer systems is “possibly the most significant cybercrime attack on the Irish state”, a minister has said.

Speaking on broadcaster RTÉ, Ossian Smyth said the attack “goes right to the core of the [health] system”.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fears have been expressed over cyberattacks emanating from the country.

While obvious targets include the likes of the United States, and Ukraine itself, all countries in the European Union will be cyber targets following sanctions on Russia.

Cyberspace has long been considered the fifth domain of war; after land, sea, air and space, and a lot of countries are not well-equipped to face this kind of attack.

Ireland’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities were exposed last year with the devastating cyberattack on the Health Service Executive, with the fallout still ongoing.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has said the HSE became aware of a significant ransomware attack on some of its systems in the early hours of Friday morning and the NCSC was informed of the issue and immediately activated its crisis response plan.

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