A leading think tank has recently warned that Britain's nuclear arsenal is actually vulnerable to a cataclysmic cyber attack.
The development of a low-yield warhead for a sea-launched ballistic missile is based on the belief that in any conflict with Russia on Nato's eastern flank, the Russians would use a tactical nuclear weapon early on, to compensate for their relative weakness in conventional arms.
Software in the nuclear missile system was being upgraded after defence officials admitted there was "legitimate concern" about threats from cyber hackers.
"Cyber-vulnerabilities within nuclear weapons systems and structures present a whole set of dangers and risks", the report, released today by Chatham House, said.
The report identified vulnerabilities across entire nuclear weapon systems, with human errors, design flaws, system failures and other vulnerabilities within the supply chain cited as potential entry points for malicious actors.
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The report also raised the prospect of "cyber spoofing", which creates false information that seems to come from a legitimate source but affects a country's decision-making process.
Some of the known methods that would affect the decision-making process for launching a nuclear weapon include data manipulation, cyber jamming communication channels or cyber spoofing, according to the authors of the report, worldwide security researchers Beyza Unal and Patricia Lewis.
"As a result, the current nuclear strategy often overlooks the widespread use of digital technology in nuclear systems".
Threats, Vulnerabilities and Consequences' report, put together by think-tank Chatham House, warns that the likelihood of attempted cyber attacks on nuclear weapons systems is "relatively high and increasing", but notes that the potentially-devastating problem has so-far received "scant attention". Said circumstances now include "a response to a non-nuclear attack that caused mass casualties" or in response to an attack aimed at critical infrastructure or nuclear control sites.
"'In times of crisis, loss of confidence in nuclear weapons capabilities would factor into decision-making and could undermine beliefs in nuclear deterrence - particularly in extending nuclear deterrence to allied countries".
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Researchers Dr Beyza Unal and Dr Patricia Lewis outlined a number of doomsday scenarios that could hit any nuclear arsenal in the world.
'Where (the administration) go overboard, is where they say... the United States needs to develop two new types of nuclear weapons, ' Wolfsthal said. It's going to be really nice when the world is incinerated in nuclear fire.
The report noted that it is the responsibility of nuclear weapons states to incorporate cyber risk reduction measures in nuclear command, control and communication systems.
"After all, it is the public that will pay the ultimate price for complacency regarding cybersecurity of nuclear weapons systems".
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