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Cybersecurity of Nuclear Weapons Systems: Threats, Vulnerabilities and Consequences

By lisa.toremark

Launch Control Center control panel for the Minuteman III nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles located in New Ramer, Colorado. Photo: Andy Cross/Contributor /Getty Images.


Project: International Security Department, Cyber and Nuclear Security11 January 2018

Research Fellow, Nuclear Weapons Policy, International Security Department

Research Director, International Security

At times of heightened tension, cyberattacks on nuclear weapons systems could cause an escalation, which results in their use.

Launch Control Center control panel for the Minuteman III nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles located in New Ramer, Colorado. Photo: Getty Images.

Summary

  • Nuclear weapons systems were first developed at a time when computer capabilities were in their infancy and little consideration was given to potential malicious cyber vulnerabilities. Many of the assumptions on which current nuclear strategies are based pre-date the current widespread use of digital technology in nuclear command, control and communication systems.
  • There are a number of vulnerabilities and pathways through which a malicious actor may infiltrate a nuclear weapons system without a state’s knowledge. Human error, system failures, design vulnerabilities, and susceptibilities within the supply chain all represent common security issues in nuclear weapons systems. Cyberattack methods such as data manipulation, digital jamming and cyber spoofing could jeopardize the integrity of communication, leading to increased uncertainty in decision-making.
  • 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 cyberattack. This unknown could have implications for military decision-making, particularly for decisions affecting nuclear weapons deterrence policies.
  • At times of heightened tension, cyberattacks on nuclear weapons systems could cause an escalation, which results in their use. Inadvertent nuclear launches could stem from an unwitting reliance on false information and data. Moreover, a system …read more

    From:: Chattam House International Security (Policy)

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