BT reviews security following exchange break-in

Thousands of businesses and homes lost their phone lines after a break-in at a Birmingham telephone exchange

BT is reviewing security at thousands of telephone exchanges across the country after a Birmingham exchange was vandalised at the weekend, causing 35,000 phone lines to be cut.

At 1:30 on Sunday morning, it appears that someone broke into the exchange in Handsworth and — according to BT — deliberately damaged cables that served much of north and west Birmingham. Full service was resumed by 6:30am on Monday morning, 29 hours after the incident.

The damage mostly disconnected voice lines, although 900 broadband customers are thought to have also been cut off. Affected customers included a "mix of homes and businesses", although BT could not give an accurate breakdown of that mix at the time of writing.

"It appears to be a one-off incident," BT's spokeswoman told ZDNet UK on Monday, adding: "It's extremely rare because security at the exchanges is understandably very tight."

However, the spokesperson conceded that this particular exchange was not manned and said that BT was now "reviewing security across all of our exchanges". The company has more than 6,000 exchanges in the UK, not all of which are manned by employees or security guards.

"We have stepped up security at that particular exchange and the surrounding area as well — we need to make sure this sort of incident doesn't happen again, or at least minimise the risk," she said.

The spokeswoman said the damage was inflicted "in an actual cable chamber" within the exchange. However, a different version of events was issued by West Midlands Police over the weekend. That version had the lines being cut, possibly by accident, after "burglars" broke into a mail sorting office adjacent to the BT exchange.

According to a spokesperson for the West Midlands Police, "cables to a BT exchange at the rear of the [post office] premises were cut" and it was still "too early to say whether it was deliberate". The police spokesperson added that it was not clear if anything was stolen from the sorting office, but it was still being treated as a burglary.