The most vulnerable place on the Internet

The Asia-Africa-Europe-1 internet cable connects Hong Kong to France. The cable provides internet connections to more than a dozen countries, from India to Greece. Millions of people were without internet when the cable was cut.

The cable was severed in the middle of Egypt. The cause of the damage was not known. The impact was immediately noticeable. The managing director of SAEx International Management says that it affected seven countries and a number of over-the-top services. Ethiopia lost 90 percent of its internet connection. The analysis showed that cloud services belonging to Microsoft, Amazon, and others were also disrupted.

While connectivity was restored in a few hours, the disruption highlights the fragility of the world’s 550-plus subsea Internet cables, plus the outsize role Egypt and the nearby Red Sea have in the Internet’s infrastructure. The global network of underwater cables forms a large part of the Internet’s backbone, carrying the majority of data around the world and eventually linking up to the networks that power cell towers and Wi-Fi connections. Subsea cables connect New York to London and Australia to Los Angeles.

The cables go through the Red Sea before they reach the Mediterranean Sea, where they connect Europe to Asia. The route has become one of the world's largest Internet chokepoints over the last two decades. The region is a choke point for shipping and the movement of goods. There was chaos when the Ever Given got stuck in the canal.


Nicole Starosielski is an associate professor of media, culture, and communication at New York University. It is a site of intense concentration of global movement that makes it more vulnerable than other places.

The European Parliament highlighted it as a risk for widespread internet disruption in a June report.

Pyramid scheme

When you look at a map of the world's internet cables, you can see why internet experts have been concerned about Egypt for a long time. In order to reach the Mediterranean Sea, the 16 cables have to travel 100 miles across Egypt and through the Red Sea. The maps don't show where the cables are.

It has been estimated that 17 percent of the world's internet traffic goes through Egypt. The US has a median home internet speed of 167Mbps, but last year the region had 178 Terabits of capacity, or 178,000,000Mbps.

Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis at Kentik, said that Egypt has become one of the Internet's most prominent chokepoints. The location contributes to the concentration of cables. The longest underwater route between Asia and Europe is passing through the Red Sea. It is safer for intercontinental Internet cables to be placed at the bottom of the sea because it is harder for them to be disrupted.

One of the only practical routes is going through Egypt. One cable that travels above Russia is the only one that goes to the south. Madory says that every time someone attempts to draw up an alternative route, they end up going through Syria or Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan. Madory says that the JADI cable system was shut down because of the civil war in Syria. In March of this year another cable was severed because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.