Cyberattacks ‘Could Lead to Inadvertent Missile Launches’, Says Think Tank

A number of nuclear weapons systems in the United States, Britain and other countries are at risk from cyberattacks that could target aging or unsophisticated weapons systems, a think tank warned on Thursday.

In a new report, international relations thinktank Chatnam House said it had identified a “number of vulnerabilities” in nuclear weapons systems across the world that leave them vulnerable to cyberattacks via malware and viruses.

“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,” it said. “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.”

As such, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, India, China, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea all have nuclear weapons.

The report’s authors suggest that a state that could be unaware of its systems being tampered or interfered with could ultimately lead to an erroneous call that might include a nuclear launch.

Jarringly, the report added:

The likelihood of attempted cyber-attacks on nuclear weapons systems is relatively high and increasing from advanced persistent threats from states and non-state groups.”

Some rudimentary components make for potential weaknesses, the report added, citing the example of Britain’s newest aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth which continues to use Windows XP, an outdated version of the Windows operating system.

Calling for “urgent attention” into such concerns, the report warned that any mistaken missile launch could lead to a “significant loss of life”.  “After all, it is the public that will pay the ultimate price for complacency regarding cyber-security of nuclear weapons systems,” the report added.

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