The majority of communication between old and new-world is sent through a slew of cables running along the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. This method is obviously the most effective, as its how we are doing it presently.

For the sack of argument, lets say a single person (evil mastermind, anarchist, etc.) would have the resources to build a submarine vehicle that can cut theses cables.

Disregard the fact that they are enormous and meant to stand the test of time!

I am mainly concerned about two things:

  1. Political situations
  2. Communications without the cables.


  1. This man works alone, without the support of any government or political group.
  2. Time setting is current day.

What situations would arise with all communications being cut across the Atlantic?

I'm hoping some interesting situation arise, but if the cables are easy to repair I guess I'll have to go for a different angle.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ What happens? 1) Ping times from the US to Europe spike as traffic finds an alternate route (across the Pacific and through Asia). 2) You get arrested. ;) $\endgroup$ Jan 22, 2016 at 17:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, The almighty Wikipedia says it already happened, so you could study that. But for story sake, you'd have to show great dependence upon that cable to have it result in something like after an EMP. $\endgroup$
    – johnny
    Jan 22, 2016 at 17:52
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Draco18s 3) or lynched by MMO gamers :) . $\endgroup$
    – Trang Oul
    Jan 22, 2016 at 19:03
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @TrangOul No no, that happens after you get to prison. $\endgroup$ Jan 22, 2016 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ @TrangOul if your "or" indicates that it's an alternative to "get arrested", it should be numbered something like 2-b), not 3), shouldn't it? ;) $\endgroup$
    – xDaizu
    May 29, 2017 at 15:57

4 Answers 4


Not much more than a major investigation.

Cable disruptions happen. When they do, traffic is rerouted. Usually you have plenty of alternative cables to reroute to along the same path. There are 15 cables between the United States and Europe, although there are other Atlantic cables between other countries and continents. If these were to be cut, we would reroute data through the pacific cables. This would cause increased stress for sure, and might result in some increased ping time to Europe, but communication will continue.

There would certainly be an investigation. Multiple cables being cut at the same time would either be assumed to be a natural event (earthquake) or possibly the Russians. This would raise alarm at the Pentagon, but seeing as how it’s only you cutting the cables, the diplomatic tension would be temporary.

This NPR article mulls over the same question (due to concerns about Russian submarine interference).

Even if all Atlantic and Pacific cables were cut by a James Bond villain, satellites will still provide for cross-continent communication. They won’t be capable of carrying the entire load of public internet traffic, but critical communication will continue. The cables are also only facilitating connections to foreign servers. In the U.S., your average user probably wouldn’t even notice the cut given the high number of services based in the U.S. Worldwide there might be more issues, but most major U.S. based internet companies have servers on other continents.


Subsea fibre optic cables come in many different sizes from 14mm diameter for Light Weight to 68mm+ for heavily armoured cables such as Rock Armour.

Armoured cables are used in shallow depths and in harsh areas of seabed terrain where abrasion or damage from fishing is likely to be caused. A typical system will start with the shore end being in Double Armour for a kilometre or so before stepping down to Single armour and then Light Weight as the depth increases.

Cables are often buried using a plough towed behind the Lay Vessel during installation as every 1m of burial provides and increasing level of protection and is cheaper than continuing to make the cables from more and more armour which increases their cost and the difficulty to handle them.

Another side to cable weight is depth, the breaking strain of Double or Single Armour is approx 270kN. Laying a cable to a depth of 6Km+ would mean that the cable would have parted under its own weight before it reached the seabed. To overcome this, Light Weight cables are used and can be installed to the deepest parts of the oceans - See Mariana Trench cable crossings.

Subsea cables are often damaged by anchors, fishing activity, earthquakes, subsea landslides, currents, typhoons and occasionally plant failure. To span the long distances fibre optic cables need to have electrically driven Repeaters every 50km or so to boost the optical transmission and overcome optical dispersion which leads to frequency blurring and data loss.

If a cable should go down the traffic is shunted to another operator’s cable or diverted through a different section of the cable. Many cable systems span the world and have multiple landing points or branches. This gives the ability to shunt traffic from a damaged section through a different landing station and onto a different operators cable or over the land network

To repair a subsea cable first the fault is located either using ohms law from the power feed equipment driving the repeaters if it is a short circuit or optically using an COTDR Optical Pulse Test Set if the fibres are broken or damaged.

Once the fault is located a repair ship is tasked for the repair. There are ships stationed all over the world covering different zones for cable repairs. The vessel will load spare cable into its tanks, often hundreds of Kilometres! Jointing kits and any replacement plant that is needed.

On arrival at the repair ground the vessel will either use an ROV if conditions permit to inspect and recover the cable end or will use a grappling rig to cut and recover the cable to the surface.

Once an end is onboard it will be tested clear for faults before being sealed and buoyed off to allow the ship to recover the other cable end and test to locate the fault. The vessel will then recover cable from the seabed to the fault and cut it out. It will then commence the initial joint where the stock cable end is joined to the system cable and laid back down to the seabed back towards the first end that way buoyed off.

On recovery of the first cable end the final joint is prepared, the stock cable is cut to length and the two ends joined to form the final bight.

Contrary to popular belief the cable doesn’t run through the entire length of the ship from end to end. Historically vessels such as the Pacific Guardian and the Atlantic Guardian are bow workers where the cable is deployed from the front of the ship clear of the props as the vessel moves backwards, they are also equipped to do long cable installations from the stern of the ship which gives rise to the misconception that cable is run from end to end.

Most modern cable ships are setup to use the large back deck as the cable operations deck, a final bight is essentially two cable ends up over the stern and joined together in a big loop inside the ship, this is then laid back to the seabed on ropes and a release hook.

The common construction of a subsea fibre optic cable working from the centre outwards is Fibres, Loose protection tube, Inner strand wires, Copper tube ( power path ) Polythene insulation, Armour wires, Nylon Serving.

The fibres are joined together using a fusion splicer that perfectly aligns the 7-20 micron sized fibres before fusing them together with an electric arc. A fusion splice is often much stronger than the parent glass of the fibre. The rest of the joint comprises of armouring and moulding the core of the joint in poly Xray testing and then assembling the rest of the case and armour ready for deployment to the seabed.

Ships such as the CS Cable Innovator can do entire Atlantic crossings without stopping where as other vessels such as CS Pacific Guardian and CS Cable Retriever are suited to repair work.

To sever all of the connections from a large country such as the UK, or America would be very difficult time consuming and ultimately fruitless as traffic can be shunted via other routes. The 2010 Earthquake in Japan severed nearly all of the cables on the Eastern Seaboard, breaking and burying a lot them. The country was still able to communicate via cables on the Western Seaboard whilst 9 cable ships were mobilised to repair the downed systems.

Some countries routinely cut cables on stealth operations against their rivals but this doesn’t allow them to listen in. It is not possible to cut into an optical cable and patch into it without being noticed and if you could you would not be able to decode and retransmit the data like on an old Coax Cable System.

Most cable operators use AIS Vessel tracking to identify ships that cross their cables and anchor near them so that they can seek restitution from the vessel owners.

OCC SC300 DA Cable http://www.submarinecablemap.com/

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding. Thank you for this detailed answer! $\endgroup$
    – Sumurai8
    Jan 23, 2016 at 10:48

There's a lot of redundancy to the cables so not much would happen except for an investigation leading to the individual's capture and punishment.

However, for the sake of fun, let's imagine he's got some help, perhaps other individuals, ultra awesome technology, a submarine made of Unobtainium, so to speak, and that the attack is very sustained and global on a level never seen before.


Realisation and panic.

Countries that are isolated and rely on the cables for their internet will suffer the most. This impacts their business, trade, recreation, and so on. Immediately, people everywhere will start phoning their infrastructural entities for answers. It could even escalate into riots as they protest, since it will take some time for the realisation to sink in and for right entities to investigate and fix it.

People who rely on global communications will lose money. Lenders and landlords still have to be paid, after all, so lots of people will end up losing their homes, belongings, and jobs if the fix isn't made quickly enough or there isn't enough back-up infrastructure to use as a safety net.

Paranoia, distrust, and finger-pointing.

Just because the man worked alone doesn't mean that the countries of the world won't know that it's a single man who worked alone. Once they realise that there's been a systematic severing of the cables and that it isn't due to some freak accident of nature, they'll look for answers.

Since it's a form of technological terrorism, they're going to wonder what non-ally was responsible. Countries that are tense with each other could be triggered into firefights, or enter miniature cold wars with each other due to doubt and distrust.

In order to mitigate the damages, everyone will be scrambling to fix (and keep fixing, since the guy might sever the cables in multiple places or keep severing them as they're placed.) the cables. After all, the governments are the end all of blame from the people, and they need to figure out who's responsible at the same time, especially if they keep getting severed.


A lot of work will go into locating the individuals who are responsible. Analysis of the severed cables, followed by a systematic deployment of reconnaissance submarines and jets to monitor for any continued or sustained terrorist acts against their infrastructure.

If a fix isn't found soon or the man isn't discovered, it can escalate into releasing spies into other countries, going to summits and meetings to discuss the attacks and what threats are possible in the future, since they don't necessarily know that it's just the cables under attack.

Through enough investigation, they'll find the individual(s) responsible.

Capture and punishment.

No one's going to put up with the attack on the very things that drive the current economy. Global communications is very important to everyone. There would be a cooperative effort to capture them, and likely put them to death for the damages incurred.


Boats such as the Atlantic Guardian are expressly designed for mid-Atlantic optic fibre cable repair and would be dispatched to repair the break. The cable is raised from the seabed, and run through the length of the vessel. In the vessel lab, the cable is parted (or an evil genius does it for you), stripped, repaired (with an electron microscope!) and rejoined. Look for the documentary online.

An evil genius would do well to follow the example of the US and other larger, more evil geniuses, who routinely eavesdrop on the traffic through the cables, rather than destroying them. Far more profitable, doesn't require a warrant, and the taxpayer foots the bill.

  • $\begingroup$ But then there's encryption. Which has become much more widespread over the last 5 years or so. You could randomly drop 5% of TLS packets to try and get people to stop using TLS (because it won't work as well) maybe, but I don't think that would be effective. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Jan 23, 2016 at 9:02

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