Will Russia Cut Underwater Internet Cables? Military Leaders Warn Suspicious Naval Activity Could Have Catastrophic Consequences

Operators talk as they lay an undersea fiber-optic cable at Arrietara beach near the Spanish Basque village of Sopelana on June 13, 2017. Russian ships have allegedly been lurking around near underwater cables. Ander Gillenea/AFP/Getty Images

Russian activity near underwater internet cables is causing concern once again, as a U.S. naval commander warned this week of suspicious activity unlike any seen since the Cold War.

Russian ships have allegedly been lurking near the underwater cables, sparking concern that Moscow might be planning to either cut the cables completely or use them to intercept communications.

Around 400 fiber-optic cables are responsible for transporting data for most of the world's emails, text messages and phone calls. Cutting several of the cables at strategic points could have a major impact on communication channels worldwide. General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. European Command, told Congress in March that Russian naval ships and submarines are poking around the cables.

It's unclear exactly what the Russian submarines are doing, but experts have said they suspect Russia is collecting information that would allow it to tamper with the cables quickly if a major conflict broke out.

It's not the first time experts have warned that Russia may be attempting to alter underwater cables. Late last year, the U.K.'s most senior military officer, Sir Stuart Peach, warned that Russia could "immediately and potentially catastrophically" damage the economy by cutting or disrupting underwater cables. Around $10 trillion of financial transactions are made every day thanks to the over 600,000 miles of cables wrapped around Earth. Peach warned that NATO must be prepared to protect the cables as Russia's navy and information warfare capabilities continue to modernize. NATO officials warned of the same threat last year.

Operators talk as they lay an undersea fiber optic cable at Arrietara beach near the Spanish Basque village of Sopelana on June 13, 2017. Ander Gillenea/AFP/Getty Images

Some experts, however, have countered that the threat may not be as serious as some military officials have described. The military is particularly interested in protecting the cables to guarantee that military communications are never disrupted.

Meanwhile, some say there is reason to believe Russia has already started experimenting with the disruption of underwater communication cables. A Russian submarine was spotted off the coast of Syria in 2016, around the same time an underwater cable facilitating communication between Syria, Lebanon and Libya was damaged. A similar incident took place in Iran that year. Why the submarines were stationed near the sites of the damaged cables was never made clear.