Did Terrorists Target UK Data Center?

Scotland Yard says Al-Qaeda members plotted to disrupt UK Internet traffic by attacking the Telehouse Europe facility in London.

Rich Miller

March 14, 2007

2 Min Read
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A group of suspected Al-Qaeda members plotted last year to disrupt Internet traffic in the United Kingdom by attacking the Telehouse Europe facility in London's Docklands area, the London Times reports. When the suspects were arrested, Scotland Yard found evidence suggesting the carrier hotel had been targeted, prompting Telehouse to place the facility on a "heightened state of alert" last year. Here's an excerpt from The Times' coverage:

A senior Whitehall security official said the internet plotters appeared to be planning to infiltrate the "hub," possibly to blow it up from the inside, according to evidence on a computer hard drive seized in raids on the homes of terror suspects in southern England last year. The Telehouse facility was the subject of intense reconnaissance. The evidence suggests that it was one of a range of options considered by the suspects," the official said.

As later noted by ZDNet UK, even a successful attack would likely not have cut Britain off from the Internet, as the Times suggested. Speculation about terrorist attacks on carrier hotels are not new, and major telecom facilities in US cities often are the focus of tightened security during periods of elevated alerts. But the specificity of the London report is no doubt unsettling to facility operators, and the possibility of an inside job should be a particular concern in the wake of reports by The Register of a pair of security breaches at London-area data centers last fall.

On Oct. 20 equipment was stolen from Easynet's primary data center, according to the Reg, which said that the thieves were not challenged because they apparently had valid swipe cards to access the facility. On Nov. 1 several router cards were stolen from a Level 3 facility, interrupting service for several customers. "The theft has raised fears that data centres and large IT departments in the City of London could be the target of an organised gang," the Register wrote.

Is this just media hysteria? The Telehouse report was discussed over at Bruce Schneier's weblog, where Bruce found the article "implausible" and several commenters challenged elements of the Times' story (particularly the bit about its "CTU" nickname). One participant noted that while the facility in question is indeed critical, it is also "one of the more physically resilient targets of the colos in the area." Telehouse, for its part, acknowledged only that recent conditions called for prudent measures.

"Security and business continuity are critically important," Robert Harris, technical services director for Telehouse, told The Times. "Our industry remains as alert as possible to any threat, terrorist or otherwise, and we are in regular communication with the appropriate authorities. The climate in 2006 required a heightened state of alert. In 2007 we remain in this heightened state of awareness to any such security threat and are in regular dialogue with the authorities."

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