What’s the greatest threat to the Internet? Did you say the elimination of net neutrality? Thankfully, that fight is over. At least for now. Back in February, the Federal Communications Commission reaffirmed the current rules of net neutrality.
What about SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act? Despite vigorous lobbying on the part of organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America, the bill never even got a vote in the House Judiciary Committee. And the Protect IP Act (PIPA) did get approved by a Senate committee, but never was put to a vote before the entire Senate.
Despite the protests of free speech activists and the hacking group Anonymous, the fact of the matter is that the greatest threat to the Internet doesn’t come from any kind of government agency.
So again, what’s the greatest threat to the Internet? Listen to these two legendary repetitive notes and take a guess.
That’s right: Jaws is the biggest threat.
“You’re gonna need a bigger computer.”
How is this?
Obviously, Jaws isn’t a real shark. Sharks in general, however, are surprisingly the biggest threat to Internet access worldwide.
Did you know that 99 percent of the Internet’s power is supplied via subterranean cables? It’s true. Next time you read an article on The Atlantic, you can thank the Atlantic Ocean for the power.
Cables of this sort started to be laid underwater all the way back in the 1850s, long before the cultivation of the world-wide web. They were used mostly for telephonic and telegramic communications. The first cables were located exclusively in the North Atlantic. Today, they’re everywhere.
Here’s a map of all of the underwater cables today. It looks like a connect-the-dots paper from someone currently experiencing shock therapy.
Modern camera technology allows cable companies to monitor these cables, but they’re far from impervious.
In 1985, Bell Technology noticed disturbances in communications. They noticed a blemish on some of their cables off the Canary Islands. The polyethylene sheath had been mauled, thanks to crocodile sharks.
This was the start of a disturbing trend, one that has taken zoologists and engineers decades to deter.
Why do sharks do this?
So why exactly do sharks want to destroy our Internet access?
You could say, “Well, they’re sharks, and sharks want to maim anything in their path.” That may be the most convenient response, but sharks are a carnivorous species. For the most part, a shark will leave alone anything it can’t eat.
Besides, these cables are all the way at the bottom of the ocean. Sharks rarely descend beyond 10,000 feet underwater.
The leading theory is that sharks, who can detect magnetic fields, confuse the magnetic fields projected by these cables for the same kind of fields projected by a school of fish.
This theory is often reaffirmed by the fact that sharks almost never attack cables made out of copper, which don’t project these same magnetic fields.
Some subscribe to the belief that sharks are simply curious. They may not necessarily be biting at the cables for sustenance — they just want to know what those wiry things on the ocean floor are.
Sharks are in fact notoriously curious animals. Many zoologists believe that when sharks swim up to unsuspecting boats, it’s not an attempt to be threatening so much as a quest for knowledge. And because a shark’s teeth are far more sensitive than its skin, they resort to using their teeth to feel out unfamiliar objects.
What’s being done
This problem isn’t new, and cable companies and Internet service providers have spent years attempting to cultivate remedies.
When sharks started tearing apart Google’s fiber optic cables in August 2014, Google immediately went into action and started to reinforce the cable with Kevlar-like material. This material is intended to act as a cushion.
Currently, Google is quite possibly the biggest victim of sharks. Because Google has more than 100,000 miles of subterranean fiber optic cables (some of which are remarkably thin), their services are highly susceptible to curious sharks.
Google may inadvertently take the lead on innovating ways to deter shark attacks. This is because fiber optic cables aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, Google is going all in.
Currently, Google is heavily investing in FASTER, a $300 million project that will link cables from the United States to Japan. The project will lay around 5,600 miles of underwater cable. If you think Google is willing to fork out $300 million for this project, but not willing to create smaller expenditures to deter sharks, think again.
Sharks are quite possibly the most feared animal of the planet. Films like the previously referenced Jaws scared an entire generation of cinema goers from playing in the ocean.
Statistically, however, shark attacks are very rare. There are an average of only 19 shark attacks per year, and only one fatality every two years. To put that in perspective, about two Americans die every year getting their change back from a vending machine.
You are not going to be attacked by a shark. YouTube, however…