Former nuclear launch officers call Trump a "clear and present danger"

Saul Bowman
January 13, 2018

The study notes that little consideration has been paid to the risk posed by the primitive computers used in nuclear missile systems.

The authors added: "Cyber vulnerabilities within nuclear weapons systems and structures present a whole set of dangers and risks". It included neutralising communications - sowing doubt in the minds of world leaders and commanders ahead of a strike, attacking telemetry data to affect where missiles strike, and sabotaging "pre-launch targeting information".

The findings also highlight reports the United States may have infiltrated parts of North Korea's missile systems in 2016, resulting in test failures.

This could "hijack decision-making with potentially devastating consequences", it found. If systems went down, then a country believing it is under attack, when it isn't, could launch deadly nuclear warheads by mistake.

Commenting on the report, Javvad Malik, security advocate at AlienVault, said: "There are many risks with connecting legacy systems, we've seen in the past years an increase in the attempts to attack critical national infrastructure such as electricity". If it includes, as reports indicate, a plan to develop two new types of nuclear weapons - a low-yield version of the Trident D5 warhead and a sea-launched cruise missile - the weapons will be deemed more "usable" and nuclear war will be more likely.

The report said: 'At times of heightened tension, cyber-attacks on nuclear weapons systems could cause an escalation, which results in their use.

The report, Cybersecurity of Nuclear Weapons Systems: Threats, Vulnerabilities and Consequences, was written by Beyza Unal, a research fellow at London-based Chatham House who previously worked on strategic analysis at North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and Patricia Lewis, research director of the worldwide security department at Chatham House.

"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".

Researchers Dr Beyza Unal and Dr Patricia Lewis, the report's authors, warned that the key targets for cyberattacks could be communications as well as the transfer and storage of data. "The final draft drops proposals to develop a nuclear hyper-glide weapon, and to remove assurances to non-nuclear weapons states that the US will not use its nuclear arsenal against them".

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