Assessing the Risks and Vulnerability of New Zealand’s Undersea Cables in 2024

In 2024, the world’s increasing reliance on digital connectivity has brought to the forefront the critical issue of the security of undersea cables. New Zealand, situated in a remote part of the globe, depends heavily on these fibre optic cables for international communication and internet access. The country is served by several key undersea cables including the Southern Cross Cable, Hawaiki Cable, and the Southern Cross NEXT. These cables are essential for the nation, carrying almost all data in and out of the country. Any disruption to these cables could lead to significant consequences, such as slow internet speeds or even a complete blackout of international connectivity.

Globally, there’s a rising concern about the security of undersea cables. Several countries have reported incidents of submarine activities near critical cable routes, raising fears of intentional sabotage. These cables’ strategic importance makes them potential targets in geopolitical conflicts, as severing them could isolate a country digitally. New Zealand’s geographic isolation and reliance on a few key cables make it particularly vulnerable. The country does not have extensive alternative routes for data transfer like some larger countries or continents.

Geopolitical risks in the form of increasing global tensions could inadvertently make New Zealand’s cables a target, despite the country not typically being at the centre of global conflicts. Physical risks also exist; beyond deliberate sabotage, undersea cables are at risk from natural hazards like earthquakes and tsunamis, which are prevalent in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Accidental cable cuts by shipping activities or fishing also pose a significant threat.

Recognising these vulnerabilities, New Zealand has taken steps to safeguard its undersea cables. The country works closely with allies and international organisations to monitor submarine activities and potential threats in the Pacific region. Increased monitoring and patrolling around key cable areas help detect and deter unauthorised submarine activities. Plans to invest in additional cables and alternate routes for data transmission are crucial, providing backup options in case of disruption to a primary cable. There’s also a growing effort to educate the public and policymakers about the importance of cable security, leading to informed decision-making and support for necessary investments.

While New Zealand’s undersea cables are currently vulnerable to a range of threats, both human-made and natural, the awareness and proactive measures being undertaken are steps in the right direction. Continued investment in cable redundancy, international cooperation, and enhanced monitoring are crucial for safeguarding New Zealand’s digital connectivity and economic stability in the face of these 21st-century threats.


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