Fiber Con


A grad student at George Mason University assembles a map of the country's fiber optic network as his dissertation. Corporate and government security types react with horror, brand the work a terrorist roadmap, and want it suppressed.

But secrecy isn't security. And this isn't even real secrecy, just the general let's-keep-the-public-in-the-dark-and-our-asses-covered impulse often mistaken for something having to do with national security. Fact is, pick any railroad right-of-way and start digging and chances are sooner or later you'll hit someone's very important fiber.

Think redundancy, not secrecy.


NEXT: We Wuz Wrong

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. the interesting part is that the map is just a compilation of public knowledge, so tons of sources would have to be classified to actually cover this up. if some snot nosed kid put this together, how do they know the terrorists haven’t already?

    sounds like energy needs to be spent on how to fix this issue and ensure redundancy rather than freaking out about public knowledge.

  2. My point above, Brady, is that it already exists.

    The anon poster prior had the right idea. Tis more terrifying for the public to threaten their lives during every day activities a la the ‘Beltway Sniper’ than to inconvenience them by taking out their phone lines. Hell, with all the hubaloo over telemarketers, spammers and ‘no call’ lists, some folks undoubtably would appreciate the silence.

  3. Yes, I’m not sure I’d be terrorized if the telemarketers couldn’t get through for a few days. Maybe the evildoers could target junk mailers, that would be awful not to get my daily fill of carpet cleaning coupons and “have you seen me” slips.

    /reverse psychology

  4. Absolutely, the information is already available to anyone with the resources to make ill use of it. Keeping the public from it is a knee-jerk reaction that actually makes us less safe by giving a false sense of security and diverting attention from more productive, yet more difficult, police work.

  5. Heh, I’m sure this is still not the case, but 4 years ago, you could have brought the Internet to a screeching halt by getting into a certain closet in a DC area office building containing the MAE-East routers.

    BTW, taking out fiber routes does more than knock out phone lines. You could lose access to all sorts of information you take for granted. For example, access to you bank accounts, medical and prescription services, air or even ground traffic control systems.

  6. Worse, Xmas, it wasn’t even an office, it was a parking space they’d leased in a garage somewhere in Vienna, VA. MAE-East could have been taken out by a senior citizen with bad depth perception.

  7. “George Mason University is also the home of a lot of economists with libertarian leanings.”

    Especially its Economics Department chairman — Walter Williams.

  8. When we want to sell a book, big time, nowadays, what do we do?

    (Ban it.)

    When we want to promote a movie, big time, nowadays, what do we do?

    (Tell everyone how filthy it is, and that it should be X-rated.)

    When gubmint wants to draw attention away from a weakness, what does it do?

    Ahem …

  9. The grad student is from George Mason University, not George Washington University. George Mason is in Fairfax, VA, and George Washington is in Washington, DC. George Mason University is also the home of a lot of economists with libertarian leanings.

  10. I agree that “security through obscurity” isn’t the best strategy, but I also don’t think we should make things easier for terrorists. Publishing sensitive data just for the sake of proving what a free society we have is just so much grandstanding.

  11. ^you’re right, i know some guys from institute for humane studies.

    but didn’t he SAY george mason?

    btw as universities with libertarian leanings go GMU is alright but u chicag beats it any day of the week

  12. sorry when i posted the second posters post hadn’t appeared so my up arrow refers to poster nmber one.

  13. jacob,
    The original post said “George Washington University,” but it has now been changed. Jeff must have noticed the error and fixed it before I could get my post up.

  14. Did you know that in places as common as Wal-Mart, they sell documents that show EVERY MAJOR HIGHWAY in the United States and Canada? My God! we must stop this insanity, before the terrorists discover these so-called “maps”.

  15. Wasn’t the whole point of the internet, as originally developed by DARPA, the redunancy and decentralization made it fairly invulnerable to attack? You can take out individual nodes or conduits, but you can’t destroy its ability to communicate that way. Of course the telephone companies also have the fiber optic network as well, but we already have several decentralized networks for communication – cell phone networks and even ham radio. That’s also assuming the telecoms don’t have some redunancy built in to their own networks, which is an unlikely assumption.

    All this will do is aid terrorists in causing inconvenience, not chaos.

  16. dood, if i was a terrorist and wanted to do serious economic damage, i’d be striking matches to petrol stations, blowing up chip fabs around the world, and for the fight club finale taking out fedwire [], CHIPS [] and SWIFT []. but as far as project mayhem goes, it’s not a bad way to go. the info is out…

    There is also the obvious threat of sabotage by a hostile government, but, surprisingly, this almost never happens. When cypherpunk Doug Barnes was researching his Caribbean project, he spent some time looking into this, because it was exactly the kind of threat he was worried about in the case of a data haven. Somewhat to his own surprise and relief, he concluded that it simply wasn’t going to happen. “Cutting a submarine cable,” Barnes says, “is like starting a nuclear war. It’s easy to do, the results are devastating, and as soon as one country does it, all of the others will retaliate.

  17. Watch it. You are all — shall we say — being observed.

  18. I can’t imagine the damage our free society will suffer if integrated, easily accessed information that would help terrorists efficiently bring the U.S. to its knees, is withheld from the public or purchased by the government and locked away.

    I much prefer the alternative – cops at every potentially vulnerable point in our infrastructure.

  19. The location of major fiber lines in the United States is not only a matter of public record, but you almost have be ‘not interested in that kind of thing’ not to know where the lines run in your community!

    The same is true with the electricity grid. The same is true with water. The same is true with dams.

    The only difference between the way we existed before this grad student finished his disertation and the way we exist now is that the grad student completed a very boring thesis that tells me what I would know in about 15 minutes of asking questions in any town or city in the United States.

    By putting all of this together in one place, a terrorist could reduce the amount of planning needed for an attack. It is already pretty easy. If you don’t think it is pretty easy it is because you don’t have any interest in that kind of information. Not that there is anything wrong with that…

    I can’t believe this student is getting his Doctorate with that kind of project! Sure it takes a long time to gather the information but it is hardly difficult! What is his degree in, withstanding boredom?

  20. Point is, Mr.Clarke, that the morons in gubmint drew more attention to this item than was necessary. Sure, the grad student laid something bare.

    He pulled their shirt off. But do you have to advertise that kind of stripping to the whole world, by pulling down your pants, too, and parading buck-naked in front of the whole world?

    So typical of the unholy gubmint-media alliance.

  21. No, Andrew, YOU are the one being observed. What’s with this “we” stuff?

    “… we’re all fat, we’re eating too much and spending too much, oh, I don’t know.”

    That’s right. You DON”t know. I know how I spend my money. I have no control over how the state’s bureaucrats spend their ill-gotten gains.

    So, please, speak for yourself.

  22. Thing is, you CANNOT stop a man when he has determination, purpose, and resource. If the information wasn’t public, how hard would it be to infiltrate into the US, get a few terrorists hired at a telecom company, and gather the information privately?

    RatherWorried said it correctly… infrastructure is on public record. What are you going to do, classify construction projects and do a background check on every backhoe operator? No can do. Whenever a utility or telecom digs to install fiber, it is a matter of public record. Not too hard to figure out.

    The government is just overwhelmed because of the amount of information that is readily available. The trick is to think AHEAD of the terrorist and create contingency plans to counteract any possible actions.

    Severing a bunch of submarine cables would hurt us – temporarily. It certainly wouldn’t stop traffic within the US and wouldn’t cripple the economy. Blowing up a bunch of oil rigs, on the other hand… would have a severe impact on the economy.

    One other thing… this one goes out to “Brady”… how do you know he is a ‘snot nosed kid’? Judging by his picture, he seems like a decent guy, who knows. Judging by your post, you’re a jerk… but then again, I’m just another opinion.


Please to post comments

Comments are closed.