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Risks of a Cyber Nuclear Attack

Image Credits:David Krieger
related to cyber security and defence

Cyber-nuclear separatism is reasonable as far as one sees it through the prism of labor division as a matter of their expertise, but it undermines nuclear deterrence under cyber-intensive conditions. What would we do if there is a cyber attack on nuclear arsenals? Any kind of malicious attack on nukes, nuclear system like early warning, delivery system could cause irreversible consequences. In the present age of fifth-generation warfare, information technology and artificial intelligence have already endorsed security and strategic affairs. However, the speculation and policies surrounding nuclear deterrence are persistently in an effort to vie with the ambitious cyber system. The world order is heading more towards anarchy where power acquisition is more important and bad actors have a greater tendency to influence vis-a vis the good ones. Nuclear deterrence is not alone, it is now adjoined with cyber deterrence. Cyber deterrence offers much more flexibility and increased options from traditional deterrence methodologies.

There are a number of vulnerabilities and pathways through which a malicious virus can hide in the nuclear weapons system thus disabling the nervous system of the enemy without a state’s knowledge. The nuclear weapon system i.e. command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) is vulnerable to cyber deterrence. Cyber threats to nuclear weapons are of two domains. One is accidental in nature; this may be due to negligence or a human error. It may also involve technical problems such as system failures, design vulnerabilities, and susceptibility to virus. On the other hand, the second domain is deliberate filtration of a virus or a cyber attack through manipulation of data, digital jamming by decoding the algorithms and cyber spoofing. All these challenges characterize widespread security concern in nuclear weapons systems. This could jeopardize the reliability of communication, hence leading towards more uncertain decision-making.

According to a report by Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) in 2018 ‘Cyber threats to nuclear weapons systems increase the risk of use as a result of false warnings or miscalculation, increase the risk of unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon, and could undermine confidence in the nuclear deterrent, affecting strategic stability’.

With the passage of time the digitization of systems and the use of emerging technologies have given us numerous benefits, contrarily they have also increased the vulnerabilities to cyber attacks in nuclear weapons systems and structures. It is a whole new set of dangers and risks which could possibly subvert the trust and self-assurance in military competences and the infrastructure of nuclear weapons. At its worst, susceptible cyber attacks could inadvertently lead to nuclear weapons launch due to deliberate misinformation. As a result, cyber insecurity in nuclear weapon infrastructure will shatter the trust in nuclear weapons systems. Moreover, it would generate noteworthy issues for policymakers because of compromised data integrity or system failure.

According to a report by Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) in 2018 ‘Cyber threats to nuclear weapons systems increase the risk of use as a result of false warnings or miscalculation, increase the risk of unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon, and could undermine confidence in the nuclear deterrent, affecting strategic stability’.

Cyber threats cannot be stopped completely, it is a developing process. However, they can be measured through which one can at least stay vigilant of these attacks every time a threat vector may emerge whenever a new digital component is advent or embeded in the nuclear weapons. Therefore, solutions to these risks should not be confined to cyber security policies. The decision/policy making bodies should go beyond the concerned cyber security policies. Information Technology (IT) and digital systems play an important role because the data needed to make a decision comes through IT and industrial control systems. Any interference in the process of receiving information would damage system integrity. Countries should introduce their own positioning capabilities so that a nuclear device cannot be traced.

The automated warning systems attached to nuclear weapons on so-called hair-trigger alert can be traced by the hackers through the GPS. Nuclear missiles, or GPS-like systems that some missiles use to calculate their positions vis-à-vis their targets could be easily conceivable by a cyber attack. Currently, there is no evidence of cyber nuclear spoofing however, considering the fast developments in the cyber arena and digitization’s of the nukes; in the near future it might well be possible. Therefore building the GPS system will help cure, the crippling confidence in the received information. Today, countries around the world are dependent on the US for military and commercial use of GPS services, which means all their nuclear weapons systems and early warning navigation systems are under Pentagon’s mercy for navigation services.

Along with the US, Russia has acquired global coverage through its Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), few years back. China is also aspiring for its own positioning capabilities (Big Dipper-navigation system) in order to be self-sufficient for GPS services. States with their individual GPS system will be able to protect the weapons from being traced, if a cyber attack is carried by another state or terrorists.

Along with the US, Russia has acquired global coverage through its Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), few years back. China is also aspiring for its own positioning capabilities (Big Dipper-navigation system) in order to be self-sufficient for GPS services.

Cyber nuclear threat is a chilling reality of the present age. The nightmare of cyber security is intensifying and developing at an extremely fast pace. States are not trying to limit them as efficiently as required. These cyber attacks could lead to nuclear cyber attacks converting cyber weapons into Weapons of Mass Destruction. Therefore, all the nuclear-armed states should collectively put a ban on embedding malicious codes into the devices-like nuclear weapon systems that can automatically activate. There should be confidence building measures among the nuclear weapon states on information sharing regarding non-state actors’ planning of a cyber nuclear attack.

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    SAJAD AHMAD Reply

    August 29, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    Overwhelmingly inspired article respected Ma’m .

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