HomeInfrastructureFrench telcos Free and SFR sabotaged by cable cutters

    French telcos Free and SFR sabotaged by cable cutters


    Subscriber choices were slow service or no service – but why?

    Services on Free and SFR were either absent or inconsistent in many French cities on Wednesday after fibre optic cables were seemingly cut overnight. Police are now investigating the mysterious attacks on France’s crucial data infrastructure, reports Security Week.

    “The attacks took place overnight at four am. Our teams have been at work since this morning,” said a spokesman for Free, which was reportedly the worst-affected service provider. Free tweeted that “multiple malicious acts” targeting its cables had led to outages and slow connections for many clients. Competitor SFR also experienced “several fibre cuts” in the Paris region and in Lyon in southeast France. 

    The infrastructures of Bouygues Telecomand market leader Orange were not attacked and services continued. There were problems in regional cities including Strasbourg, Reims and Grenoble. “Cuts to cables have been confirmed in the Paris region affecting fixed and mobile services,” Digital Affairs Minister Cedric O wrote on Twitter.

    Who is cutting cables?

    The source of the problem a mystery so far, with security experts insisting that, despite being such an obvious target, coordinated attacks on fibre optic cables were unprecedented. “This sort of incident at this scale never happens,” one anonymous security expert told Security Week. “It’s the first time and we don’t know who it is for the moment.” The affected operators said their technicians had been working overnight to restore services and Free said the problems were contained.

    Sabotage au folles

    Many cloud computing groups were also hit by the outages, which forced Free and SFR to move their data on to alternative routes. “When the motorway is blocked you need to redirect all the traffic on to other roads,” said a philosophical Sami Slim, speaking on behalf of data centre company Telehouse. Cutting cables can result in small outages, but the internet still works, Slim added.

    Security needed

    However the saboteurs seemed to have a knowledgeable plan. They knew enough to target backbone cables and knew motorways and rail tracks on which. find them. The Paris-Lyon and Paris-Strasbourg links were apparently targeted. In March 2020, fibre optic cables used for Orange’s network were intentionally cut in the Paris region, depriving tens of thousands of users of internet connections.