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If an attacker were to dig up the 'outgoing feed' from my local exchange or the street cabinet, could they sniff my entire neighborhood's network traffic? Or is this infrastructure secured against this sort of attack?

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2 Answers

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Absolutely.

In practice, though, this is a complex and very risky attack - probably going to be easier to do something else.

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doesn't stop the military doing it, I would point out it's harder with fiber optics as the interruption is usually instantly detected. –  ewanm89 Apr 30 '12 at 14:10
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I'd say it does. The complexity stops the domestic military doing it (they can just walk into the ISP and ask for everything, much easier) and the risk stops foreign military doing it (people in Slough would notice a Russian tank parked next to a BT cabinet). –  Graham Hill Apr 30 '12 at 15:18
    
Ah, another Brit, and yeah, there is no point the local military flexing those muscles in the UK. Other countries have different regulations and different willing less to break those regulations, but how would we know if they did tap and MITM undersea cables with a submarine? –  ewanm89 Apr 30 '12 at 15:22
    
Tapping undersea cables would cause massive packet loss during the transition, immediately alerting the operators. Not to mention the fact that there are too many listening buoys on the sea bed for anyone to get close without being detected. –  Polynomial Apr 30 '12 at 16:04
    
@ewanm89 You wouldn't care: that threat is mitigated by use of a separate secure channel. –  Graham Hill Apr 30 '12 at 16:35
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Yes, they could.

It wouldn't be terribly hard: those street cabinets aren't very physically secure. At least, the ones in my neighborhood aren't. On the other hand, there's some chance of detection (a neighbor might call the police if they see some suspicious character messing around with the cabinet late at night), and there are probably easier ways to make money. Meanwhile, law enforcement and the military have other ways to tap your communications. So this is probably a low risk. There are probably other, better things to worry about.

But, if you are concerned about the risk, the defense is to use traffic encryption. Use an encrypted VPN; use HTTPS Everywhere; use SSH; etc.

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