Chatham House: Nuclear weapons are vulnerable to cyber attacks


Human error, system failures, design vulnerabilities, and susceptibilities within the supply chain all represent common security issues in nuclear weapons systems.

But it added: 'At worst, cyber-attacks could lead to deliberate misinformation and the inadvertent launch of nuclear weapons'.

This could "hijack decision-making with potentially devastating consequences", it found.

"After all, it is the public that will pay the ultimate price for complacency regarding cybersecurity of nuclear weapons systems".

"Donald Trump's Nuclear Posture Review comes after last month's publication of the US National Security Strategy (NSS) that was littered with references to nuclear weapons and a belligerent approach to North Korea, which was referenced seventeen times".

However, the also using cyber warfare to disrupt North Korea's weapons program - a campaign than began under the Obama administration - and was blamed for the April 2017 failure of a rocket that disintegrated seconds after being launched.

The report, recently released, went on to add that cyber vulnerabilities within nuclear weapons systems and structures present a whole set of dangers and risks.

"During peacetime, offensive cyber activities would create a dilemma for a state as it may not know whether its systems have been the subject of a cyber attack", it said.

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Cyber interference could also destroy industrial control systems within delivery platforms, such as submarines, causing them to malfunction, while clandestine attacks could be conducted on targeting information or operational commands, which may not be discovered until the point of launch.

"At best, cyber insecurity in nuclear weapons systems is likely to undermine trust and confidence in military capabilities and in the nuclear weapons infrastructure".

This could "infect digital components of a system at any time", which the think-tank said could lead to countries launching nuclear weapons by accident.

While the researchers do not claim that emerging technologies are the primary risk to consider in the nuclear field, they argue that although key risk areas have existed for a long time, new technology has exacerbated these risks.

Nuclear weapons systems - including the UK's Trident warheads - were first developed when computers were in their infancy and little consideration was given to cyber vulnerabilities, the authors warn.

"The United States already possesses a diverse array of nuclear capabilities, and there is no evidence that more usable weapons will strengthen deterrence of adversaries or compel them to make different choices about their arsenals", Kimball wrote on the Arms Control Today website.

"Although some information is publicly available on USA weapons systems, there is very little information regarding other nuclear weapons states", the report said.

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