Research by Chatham House, a famed UK think-tank,
highlighted vulnerabilities in the systems used to maintain
nuclear arsenals worldwide.
It said the risks from cyber attacks have not been
Systems being compromised could lead to accidental
launches, it said.
Britain’s GCHQ agency said it has been investing hard
in offensive cyber capabilities.
Cyber attacks could compromise the nuclear arsenals of countries
like Britain and the US, and ultimately trigger nuclear war,
according to a paper by a respected think-tank.
Chatham House, a policy discussion group based in London, warned
that “inadvertent launches” were a possible consequence of new
technology being employed by hostile states and criminals.
a research paper published on Thursday, two policy experts
said that new technology could allow hostile actors to manipulate
data feeds to components involved in nuclear launches.
This could have consequences including turning them off, giving
them false information, or, in an extreme situation, accidentally
firing them, the report warns.
It listed 13 types of data which were open to manipulation,
stressing the scale of efforts necessary to protect nuclear
Chatham House/Business Insider
The paper highlighted specific methods of vulnerability,
including those related to at-sea nuclear deterrents like the
UK’s Trident missile system.
While these vessels are generally “air-gapped,” meaning their
systems are closed to outside input, the report pointed out that
they are vulnerable while in port between missions, and could be
They also highlighted research by Israeli researchers, who
claimed to be able to read information from a computer without
being connected to it by listening to
the sound of its cooling fans, arguing that keeping systems
100% offline is no longer a feasible strategy.
Security risks to nuclear infrastructure are not new, the report
acknowledges, and factors like human error, intelligence breaches
and mechanical failure have been concerns since the beginning of
the nuclear age.
But it warns that the expansion of cyber warfare programs by
militaries and external groups introduces new risks which have
yet to be fully appreciated.
Details on any capability to meddle in nuclear programs would,
inevitably, be kept out of the public domain. But it is certainly
plausible that states have cyber weapons specifically designed to
interfere with nuclear weapons systems.
Chatham House highlighted
reports from spring 2017 that the US infiltrated parts
of North Korea’s nuclear test infrastructure.
Separately, Britain’s GCHQ security agency has confirmed in a
report to Parliament that it has a large array of “offensive
cyber” capabilities, which are so powerful it would be hesitant
to use them.
comments made to the Intelligence and Security Committee, a
GCHQ spokesman described the arsenal included “counter state
offensive cyber capabilities which might never be used but are
the sort [of] high-end deterrents.”
It did not specify their particular capabilities, but the
language leaves open the possibility that these could affect
In conclusion, Chatham House’s report called for more thorough
testing of cyber resilience in nuclear systems, more failsafes,
and a slowing-down of the process involved in launching attacks,
which could increase the time available to assess the situation
and spot compromised systems.
Business Insider contacted the British Ministry of Defence, and
the Pentagon for comment, but did not receive a response from
either at time of publication.