“Vandals” Are Slicing Fiber-Optic Cables Around the Bay Area

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The FBI is calling 11 separate attacks on fiber-optic cables in the Bay Area since July 2014 vandalism, but they have no idea who the perpetrators are. Could be pranksters, jihadists or a government conspiracy.

They would have figured it out by now in Texas, where right-wing internet is good at crowdsourcing these kinds of mysteries. An attack on fiber optics would be an assault on the heart of their networked strength and Lone Star sovereignty.

For now, it’s just a mystery in California, though a bit of an unnerving one. The latest incident happened on Tuesday when someone broke into an underground vault in Livermore, 40 miles southeast of San Francisco, and cut three cables. Phone service, television and internet connections were affected in Sacramento.

Among those impacted were Level 3 Communications, Zayo Group and Wave Broadband, which uses the fiber-cable of the other two to provide its service. A statement from Wave Broadband said the incident was part of a “coordinated attack.” The FBI disputes that, for now, but speculated that the “individuals may appear to be normal telecommunications maintenance workers or possess tools consistent with that job role.” 

Ten of the 11 incidents were at night. Sometimes there were multiple incidents on the same day. The first was in Berkeley at 9:44 p.m. on July 6, 2014. Another attack occurred nearly two hours later in Fremont. There were three more incidents the next day in Walnut Creek, Fremont and San Jose.

There were two attacks very near each other in Fremont, both at 11:30 p.m. on February 24, and two incidents on June 8, just 40 minutes apart in Alamo and Fremont. The next day was the only afternoon attack, at 1:38 p.m. in Walnut Creek.

FBI Special Agent Greg Wuthrich told Ars Technica the bureau has not found a motive. Cybersecurity expert Jonathan Thompson told USA Today, “When it’s situations that are scattered all in one geography, that raises the possibility that they are testing out capabilities, response times and impact.”

The FBI press release mentioned sabotage of the PG&E Metcalf substation in April 2013 but did not otherwise link it to the 11 incidents. On the day after the Boston Marathon attacks, a gunman or two entered two manholes at the power station just southeast of San Jose and severed fiber optic cables. 911 service was cut to the area and AT&T cellphone service was disrupted.

Someone then shot up the place with a high-powered rifle, pumping more than 100 rounds into several transformers. Cooling oil leaked out and the overheated transformers shut down. No one was injured and the disruption of electrical power was minimal. But power had to be rerouted and residents were warned to conserve energy.

They were no reports of such weapons-happy frivolities at the new incidents.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

FBI Seeking Fiber-Optic Cable Vandals in Wake of Recent Bay Area Attacks (by Rick Hurd, Oakland Tribune)

FBI and Local Law Enforcement Seek Public’s Assistance Concerning Severed Fiber Optic Cables in the East Bay and South Bay (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

California Fiber Optic Cable Vandalism Continues Unabated (by David Kravet, Ars Technica)

FBI Looks into Fiber-Optic Vandalism in Northern California (by Janie Har, Associated Press)

FBI Investigating Vandalism of Fiber-Optic Cables in Livermore (by Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle)

FBI Investigating 11 Attacks on San Francisco-Area Internet Lines (by Trevor Hughes and Jessica Guynn, USA Today)

Eight Months Later, San Jose Power Station Attack Looks More Ominous (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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