Telstra 'network vandals' sever the national security argument

I was interested to read that Telstra had the good sense to finally hand over its network designs to the Federal government last week.

I was interested to read that Telstra had the good sense to finally hand over its network designs to the Federal government last week.

I say "good sense" because the excuse the carrier has been using to keep its network information close to its chest — that network security was a "matter of national security" — is looking a little ridiculous in light of some other Telstra-related news in my inbox.

Earlier this month, it was reported that some 10,000 residents and businesses in the Blacktown area spent a weekend planted firmly in the 20th century, after two Telstra fibre-optic network cables were severed in what the carrier described as "vandalism". These cables are small, and splicing them back together is no easy feat. It took 30 technicians two days to get Blacktown and surrounding suburbs back online.

While Telstra insists that the damage was the work of "vandals" ("we believe the cables were deliberately cut ... you certainly couldn't do this by accident," said a spokesperson for the carrier), the NSW Police are taking a more measured approach. And with good reason — the cables were cut in a telecommunications pit, access to which requires "specialised equipment", "skill" and "effort" to access.

All of which makes the term "vandalism" seem a bit light on. I thought vandals were angsty teenagers who broke windows and spray-painted bus stops. They do not halt business operations of major portions of the city, and they certainly don't do it at 8am on a Saturday morning.

It certainly wouldn't be implausible that the severing of the cables was the mistake of a Telstra employee or contractor, a disgruntled ex-employee perhaps, or some other person with inside knowledge.

Nearby shopkeepers at Westfield Blacktown believe that the outage was caused by organised criminal elements, who were in fact looking to cut EFTPOS network cables as a means of committing mass fraud.

Certainly, the presence of men in "safety vests" cutting cables doesn't sound like "vandals" but something else entirely.

NSW Police have said that "the motive of cutting data cables for the purpose of fraud is something we are looking at," but also said that such a motive could be discounted by the fact that the cable cuts took down all the communications west of the telecommunications pit — Westfield is in the opposite direction.

But regardless of who the NSW Police (hopefully) find responsible, all Telstra's talk about network security and "the national interest" sounds a trifle overblown.

It is pretty alarming to think that a hacksaw or some clippers is about all you need to cause as much chaos as the Blacktown outage did. If Telstra thinks network information is "a matter of national security", indeed if the telco wants to keep winning AU$160 million networking contracts with Defence, it might first want to focus on tightening up the physical security of its networks.

It's not like such information is too difficult to find anyway.