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Low-tech hackers cut Internet, phone links in Silicon Valley

FORGET computer viruses and sophisticated cyber-crimes. A hacksaw and a few other tools were probably all it took for someone to sever eight fiber-optic cables in the United States' Silicon Valley this week, knocking out cell phone, land-line and Internet service.

The attack was a reminder of the fragility of telecommunications networks that are increasingly important in our lives. Yet physical sabotage of networks is extremely rare, and far overshadowed by natural disasters like hurricanes. Security experts were unable to recall a similar incident.

Cables were cut early Thursday in San Jose and nearby San Carlos, wiping out telecom services to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. Some people were still able to place local calls, but emergency call services disappeared.

A woman in Gilroy was forced to flee her home during a robbery because she couldn't call police. She rushed to a nearby firehouse to report the crime, city spokesman Joe Kline said. Services returned later Thursday as repairs progressed.

Police in San Jose have received leads from potential witnesses, Sergeant Ronnie Lopez said, and FBI spokesman Brian Hale said the incident had no connection to terrorism. He did not elaborate on how that determination had been made.

Lopez said that whoever cut the cables knew how to use the proper tools to remove a heavy manhole cover and slice through the thick cables protected by a heavy plastic sheath.

The severed fiber ran in underground conduits about 3 meters below ground level. In other places, optical fiber runs in pipes just under the ground, or in railway embankments.

Still, it wasn't clearly an inside job. In San Carlos, where four fiber-optic cables were severed, Police Commander Rich Cinfio cautioned people not to conclude the crime required detailed knowledge of the system's workings.

AT&T Inc, which owns six of the severed cables, posted a US$100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest, then raised that to US$250,000 on Friday "as the full scope of the vandalism became more clear."

Phone and Internet service from Verizon Communications Inc was also disrupted for about 50,000 households, since the company uses AT&T's "long-haul" lines in the area.


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