UK Nuclear Weapons Vulnerable to Cyberattacks?

Are the UK’s Trident Nuclear Weapons Vulnerable to Cyberattacks? (ITProPortal): A recent article by Mark Wilson which appeared in ItProPortal indicates that Des Browne, the former UK defense secretary believes that the Trident nuclear weapons are susceptible and could be rendered useless in a coordinated cyberattack.  The article also indicates that the US had previously reported that US defenses and those of other NATO allies might not withstand a coordinated and sophisticated cyberattack.  Browne, who is now the vice-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative says an inability to identify and mitigate cyber vulnerabilities could result in the nuclear deterrent being unavailable should the day come when it is actually needed, according to the article. Fortunately, Franklin Miller, a former White House defense policy official, believes the US nuclear system is impervious to cyberattack, according to the article.  In the article, Miller states that if our nuclear command and control (“C&C”) system used the internet then this would be a very dire warning but Miller indicates that there is no issue since the Nuclear C&C system is air-gapped and not connected to the internet.


 

My Opinion:

While worrisome, is this really a big deal? With the amount of nuclear weapons available and the strategic alliances that have been formed, how many nuclear weapons would have to actually remain operable in order to maintain the mutually-assured-destruction (“MAD”) deterrence between the countries currently in the nuclear club?  Unless of course there exists the possibility that rather than rendering the nuclear system inoperable during a cyberattack a cyberattack could somehow allow outside control of a nuclear weapon.  That is certainly a far more worrisome scenario.  For instance, it is suspected that the Russian nuclear C&C system (Perimetr) was designed to initiate a launch in the event that communication links were lost.  One can only hope that such a system would leverage ultra low frequency (ULF) such as is used by the US Navy and which has proven difficult to successfully attack.  However, the thought that a loss in a communication link could potentially initiate the launch of nuclear weapons is enough for one to consider that this vulnerability should be assessed and addressed.

Additionally, the comments by Franklin Miller are not very reassuring.  Attacks on air-gapped systems are not really novel and have been successful in the past (e.g. Iranian Nuclear Facilities and Stuxnet).  Furthermore, the fact that the same government that oversaw the exfiltration of over 20 million personnel records from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is in charge of cybersecurity for our nuclear arsenal is not exactly reassuring.  See the article below for an interesting (if somewhat dated) read on this.

jason_fritz_hacking_nc2

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Professor William Snyder

Professor William C. Snyderis a member of the faculty of the Institute for National Security and Counter-terrorism at Syracuse University after fifteen years with the United States Department of Justice.

Ryan D. White

Ryan D. WhiteRyan is currently a third year law student at Syracuse University College of Law, and is also pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Ryan spent time with Homeland Security Investigations while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University, and spent his first summer of law school as clerk for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York. He is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and participates in the Veteran’s Legal Clinic. Full biography

Shelby E. Mann

Ryan D. WhiteShelby is a second year law student at the Syracuse University College of Law. During her final year at the University of Missouri, she served as a full-time news producer for ABC 17 News. Shelby spent her first summer of law school at the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office in Memphis, Tenn., in the Public Corruption and Economic Crimes Unit. She is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and the senior editor for the Syrian Accountability Project. Full biography

Christopher w. FolkChristopher W. Folk

is a 2017 graduate of SU College of Law. A non-traditional student, Christopher returned to academia after spending nearly twenty years in the high tech industry. Christopher served in the Marine Corps, graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. In Applied Economics and Business Management, attended Northeastern University’s High-Tech MBA Program and received a M.S. In Computer Information Systems. Christopher previously worked in Software Engineering. Christopher is currently serving his second term as Town Justice for the Town of Waterloo. Christopher externed with a Cybersecurity firm in the Washington, D.C. area between his first and second year at SU College of Law. Full biography

Anna Maria Castillo

Anna Maria Castillois 2016 graduate of Syracuse College of Law. She also holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She has interned at a London-based think-tank that specializes in transnational terrorism and global security and at the legal department of a defense contractor. She served as an executive editor in the Syracuse Law Review. Full biography

Jennifer A. CamilloJennifer A. Camillo

is a 2015 graduate of Syracuse College of Law and is a prosecutor. She has served as a law clerk in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office and as an extern in the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office. She was a member of the Syracuse National Trial Team and was awarded the Tiffany Cup by the New York Bar Association for her trial advocacy achievements.

Tara J. PistoreseTara J. Pistorese

holds Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Administration degrees from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and its College of Law. She wrote for this blog when a student. She is now a member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.

Benjamin Zaiser

is both a scholar and a Federal Agent of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany. (Opinions expressed here are his own and not any part of official duty.) Full biography

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