Reports have come in over the weekend of a series of dawn raids by the Metropolitan Police on a number of terrorist suspects with Al-Qaeda connections in London. All the suspects have been arrested. The raids follow the seizure of computer files last year suggesting that the target of their planned attack was none other than Telehouse Europe. Located in the Docklands area of London, this is the biggest Internet hub in Europe and the majority of UK Internet traffic flows through it.
The damning discovery follows on from a similar operation earlier last year when the UK secret service, MI5, found evidence to suggest that Islamic terror groups were targeting the Bacton gas terminal complex on the Norfolk coast. What the two plots would suggest is a concerted attempt to cause widespread disruption to British business and domestic life through the destruction of critical infrastructure. Thankfully neither plot has come to fruition courtesy of the prompt actions by UK security services. MI5 has even set up the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure unit to protect key infrastructure sites from terrorist attack.
The Telehouse plot was quite well advanced, with the key to the operation being an inside job to infiltrate the hub and blow it up from within. But would the consequences of such an attack, were it successful, be catastrophic? I have to say I am unconvinced that it would. Disruptive, costly, annoying and hugely problematical for sure, but catastrophic as in bringing the Internet to its knees in the UK and parts of Europe? Not a chance. The trouble is that this particular Telehouse facility has been well known throughout the UK Internet industry as something of a bandwidth choking point, leading many of those with critical infrastructure needs to adopt a distributed approach across multiple collocation sites. For example, the major UK Internet peering point, LINX, does exactly this.
What the terrorists seem totally incapable of understanding, in their blind passion to destroy the Internet, is that it itself is incapable of being destroyed by a single attack. For the same reasons that efforts to censor the web have consistently failed “the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it” so will any single attack on any single hub, root server or undersea pipe.
Where terrorist action is more effective is on a purely local basis, as was proved when a man went into an Internet café in Casablanca, Morocco on Sunday in order to do a little research on some terrorist websites. The Café management was having none of it, and apparently refused the man access. According to the Surete Nationale Police this led to the man got so angry that he detonated the explosives that were strapped to his body…