Fibre-optic networks vulnerable to hacking

Fibre-optic cable networks are not as secure as believed - with new technology making it easy for hackers to steal data from them, according to an IDC report.

IDC research analyst Romain Fouchereau said that the reputation of a fibre-optic cable network as more secure than copper cables wasn't justified, and that new and inexpensive technologies have now made data theft easily possible for hackers without detection.

Organisations that carry sensitive information across fibre-optic cables are potentially vulnerable from criminal threats, as much of the cabling is easily accessible and not well protected. Fouchereau said that hacks on optical networks could be achieved simply by extracting light from ultra-thin fibres.

Once a successful tap has been achieved, software that records, monitors and analyses the data (called packet sniffers), can capture the data.

"Organisations in the financial, insurance, healthcare, and government sectors deliver sensitive information across fibre-optic cables around the world," Fouchereau said in the report.

"Hence, capturing or eavesdropping on this data serves not only military purposes. Industrial espionage in these sectors is worth billions of dollars."

The report also includes some past incidents of optical fibre networks being hacked, such as credit card breaches, government eavesdropping, and the criminal monitoring of big pharmaceutical companies in the UK.

Fouchereau said that as it was impossible to monitor the entire optical fibre network, the only solution to prevent it currently available is through encryption which would render the data useless to hackers.