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The telecommunications infrastructure has been revolutionized by advances in information technology in the past two decades to form an information and communications infrastructure, consisting of the Public Telecommunications Network (PTN), the Internet, and the many millions of computers in home, commercial, academic, and government use.
Taking advantage of the speed, efficiency and effectiveness of computers and digital communications, all the critical infrastructures are increasingly connected to networks, particularly the Internet. Thus, they are connected to one another. Networking enables the electronic transfer of funds, the distribution of electrical power, and the control of gas and oil pipeline systems. Networking is essential to a service economy as well as to competitive manufacturing and efficient delivery of raw materials and finished goods. The information and communications infrastructure is basic to responsive emergency services. It is the backbone of our military command and control system. And it is becoming the core of our educational system.
Mutual dependence and the interconnectedness made possible by the information and communications infrastructure lead to the possibility that our infrastructures may be vulnerable in ways they never have been before. Intentional exploitation of these new vulnerabilities could have severe consequences for our economy, security, and way of life.
The United States, where close to half of all computer capacity and 60% of Internet assets reside, is at once the world’s most advanced and most dependent user of information technology. More than any other country, the U.S. relies on a set of increasingly accessible and technologically reliable infrastructures, which in turn have agrowing collective dependence on domestic and global networks. This provides great opportunity, but it also presents new vulnerabilities that can be exploited. It heightens risk of cascading technological failure, and therefore of cascading disruption in the flow of essential goods and services. Computerized interaction within and among infrastructures has become so complex that it may be possible to do harm in ways that cannot be conceive.
"Although the long-haul telecommunications infrastructure is capable of dealing with single-point failures (and perhaps even double-point failures) in major switching centers, the physical redundancy in that infrastructure is finite, and damaging a relatively small number of major switching centers for long-distance telecommunications could result in a fracturing of the United States into disconnected regions. Particular localities may be disrupted for a considerable length of time. . . . Note also that many supposedly independent circuits are trenched together in the physical trenches along certain highway and rail rights-of-way, and thus these conduits constitute not just "choke points" but rather "choke routes" that are hundreds of miles long and that could be attacked anywhere."
"An additional vulnerability in the telecommunications infrastructure is the local loop connecting central switching offices to end users; full recovery from the destruction of a central office entails the tedious rewiring of tens or hundreds of thousands of individual connections. Destruction of central offices on a large scale is difficult, simply because even an individual city has many of them, but destruction of a few central offices associated with key facilities or agencies (e.g., those of emergency-response agencies or of the financial district) would certainly have a significant immediate though localized impact. However, the widespread availability of cellular communications, and mobile base-stations deployable in emergency conditions, may mitigate the effect of central office losses."