NATO Supports to Reroute Internet from Undersea Cables to Space

By Jose Resurreccion

Jul 09, 2024 04:55 AM EDT

NATO Supports to Reroute Internet from Undersea Cables to Space
A NATO banner seen outside the Washington convention center where the NATO summit will be taking place in Washington, DC, from July 9th to the 11th.
(Photo : MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

On the eve of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) summit in Washington this week, the alliance announced that it would help finance a project to create redundancy to keep the internet running in the event that underwater cables get sabotaged and compromised in an attack or disaster scenario. 

Bloomberg published an exclusive report on the matter, detailing the plan to have an internet connection backup on Earth orbit. 

Researchers, including those from the United States, Iceland, Sweden, and Switzerland, said they seek to develop a protocol to seamlessly transition civilian and military communication traffic from subsea cables to satellite systems in the event of sabotage or natural disaster. 

It is understood that NATO's Science for Peace and Security Program approved a €400,000 ($433,100) grant to the $2.5 million project, while research institutions have been providing in-kind contributions. 

NATO science program manager Eyup Kuntay Turmus, who advised the project, confirmed that the project was recently approved and that implementation could start "very soon."

In the aftermath of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline explosion in 2022, which some speculated was either a clandestine operation or Russian false-flag sabotage, NATO has been working on not only securing underwater sea cables but also ensuring that communication across Europe would continue in the event of a faulty undersea cable. 

It could also be speculated that the program was greenlit due to intensifying fears that Russia or China could damage or destroy undersea cables in an attempt to disrupt communication in the event of a military crisis. 

According to documents reviewed by Bloomberg, data carried through underwater cables account for roughly $10 trillion worth of financial transactions daily, with NATO saying that most of its internet traffic travels through them.

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Internet Redundancy for NATO, Europe

The project, known as the Hybrid Space and Submarine Architecture to Ensure Information Security of Telecommunications (HEIST) research program, is expected to be officially launched at a symposium at Cornell University in New York later this month and will focus on developing methods to detect off-nominal activities on cables and automating bids to access satellite bandwidth or other subsea cables to reroute data.

The research for prototype testing and regulation navigation is expected to take at least two years. Once operational, the project will eventually involve commercial and government partners. 

The HEIST program is co-directed by Swedish Defense University associate professor Hans Liwång and Cornell space systems engineer Gregory Falco. Both say the project will be complex but promising, especially given the current circumstances. 

Some of the test subjects for the HEIST program include the Swedish Navy and the Icelandic government. 

Iceland is a founding member of NATO, while Sweden only entered the alliance in March. 

Documents also revealed that the other test subjects for the program included the US satellite firm Viasat, space tech company Sierra Space, and Icelandic cybersecurity company Syndis.

Pentagon's Starshield Program

Last month, the Pentagon launched the first of its Starshield military satellite constellation, which will provide a similar backup and application as the NATO-funded project.

While part of the alliance, the US independently developed the program with SpaceX. 

The space and defense communities speculate that Starshield is the militarized version of the currently active Starlink internet constellation with additional bespoke capabilities such as enhanced encryption and other security features. 

Space News reported that the US Defense Department plans to add over 100 Starshield satellites to its future satcom architecture. 

It remains to be seen whether the HEIST program or NATO would utilize Starlink or Starshield for their communication redundancy projects. 

READ MORE: Google Launches Umoja Fiber Optic Cable Connecting Australia with Africa

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