The industrial-scale theft of copper telecommunications cables is a massive problem: in the UK alone, cable worth £770 million was stolen from overhead and buried telephone lines and railway signalling systems last year.
“It’s proven absolutely fantastic,” says Luke Beeson, general manager for cable theft prevention at British Telecom (BT). “Police in Kent, London and South Yorkshire have made arrests thanks to the system – and although cables are still being cut, fewer are being stolen because we are getting to the scene quicker. And that means people’s phones are back on line faster.”
The ill-gotten rewards can be high. Metal thieves need only cut a cable in a street cabinet while an accomplice a kilometer away does the same. Then they winch the cable onto a truck. That kilometer of cable can fetch £20,000 on the scrap metal market. Even fiber optic cable is not immune from theft-related outages: thieves mistake it for shielded copper and take it anyway, or they damage nearby high-capacity fibers while stealing copper, Beeson says.
The technological countermeasure adopted by BT is an AI algorithm installed in its national network monitoring center – a secure facility in a secret UK location – which it has rolled out over the past three months.
Called the Rapid Assessment BT Incident Tracker – RABIT – the chunk of code monitors all 120 million kilometers of cable on BT’s phone network. RABIT is a real-time system based on a neural network that has been trained to sense the difference between a telecoms cable being severed and a cable that has gradually failed – perhaps due to corrosion, falling trees, water seeping in, or perhaps incursion by farming machinery. It does this by undertaking line tests and bandwidth measurements to home in on a telltale signature of a cable cut.
This event data is then immediately plugged into a geospatial incident monitoring system called Saturn, which gives BT security staff a national view of trouble spots on its networks, including cyber attacks. Saturn also uses AI routines to spot patterns.
Catch the culprits
“This lets us plot patterns of activity as the cable thieves move across the country, showing the hot spots and letting you predict where they’ll go next,” says Robert Ghanea-Hercock, chief security researcher at BT’s lab in Ipswich, UK.
“The target response time we’re aiming for is 15 minutes, which is what the police say they need to catch them before they take the cable,” he adds. However, so as not to aid the bad guys, BT is not saying what the response time is right now.
The encouraging news from BT’s use of the system has inspired the UK’s national railway provider, Network Rail, to explore technical measures to prevent theft of lineside signalling cable. BT’s system cannot be used on the railways because the types of signals carried are too different, says Rachel Lowe at Network Rail in York.
“We are looking at a number of measures, from CCTV to marking cables – and various detection systems from third-party security companies are being assessed,” she says.
One measure that hasn’t worked so far, she says, is acoustic sensors. “They get false alarms from foxes and rabbits.”
Blowfish12@2012 blowfish12.tk Author: Sudharsun. P. R.
- AI system helps spot signs of copper cable theft (newscientist.com)
- Urgent action by Government essential to curb cable theft (rail.co)
- Police probe cable theft death link (granthamjournal.co.uk)
- Attempted telephone cable theft leaves thousands unable to make calls (scotsman.com)
- More cash to stop cable theft ruled out (yorkshirepost.co.uk)
- Surrey neighbourhood hit by cable theft (ctvbc.ctv.ca)
- Cable theft rail delay arrests (bbc.co.uk)
- Metal thieves targeting beer kegs (premierlinedirect.co.uk)
- Copper cable thief paralysed rail system (yorkshirepost.co.uk)
- No further funding proposed for rail cable theft task force (thisislondon.co.uk)