The UK’s Trident submarine fleet is vulnerable to a "catastrophic" cyber-attack that could render Britain’s nuclear weapons useless, according to a report by a London-based think-tank.
The 38-page report, 'Hacking UK Trident: A Growing Threat', warns that a successful cyber-attack could "neutralize operations, lead to loss of life, defeat or perhaps even the catastrophic exchange of nuclear warheads (directly or indirectly)."
The Ministry of Defense has repeatedly said the operating systems of Britain’s nuclear submarines cannot be penetrated while at sea because they are not connected to the internet at that point. But the report’s authors, the British American Security Information Council (Basic), expressed skepticism.
"The potential cyber-attack vectors cover three life stages of submarines: construction, patrol and maintenance. Each of these stages contains specific vulnerabilities to be investigated, assessed and monitored. The defensive measures should include physical and cyber-security solutions with the use of the state of the art detection technologies and simulation exercises to respond to all potential scenarios," the report read.
"This report has focused on the cyber vulnerabilities of the UK’s nuclear submarines, but of course, cyber insecurity is relevant to all forms of military equipment, and particularly for other nuclear weapon delivery systems. It has been said that because of the operational air gap, submarines are relatively more secure than other platforms. This may be true, but there are particular consequences for ballistic missile submarines because of their mission as an assured second-strike capability.
"These have been assumed to be effectively invulnerable to first strike attack, and to have stabilized strategic relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, then Russia, for over half a century. If confidence in these platforms is harmed then this could have unpredictable consequences upon strategic stability, and crisis instability that need to be studied more closely."
The authors of the report raise a particularly interesting issue:
"There is a particular problem associated with the nature of cyber warfare and the trends that appear to favor offensive over defensive operations as systems become more complex and integrated, hacking tools proliferate, and states allocate more resources to their offensive cyber capabilities.
"Those responsible for cyber security themselves need to engage in offensive cyber intelligence operations in order to track the intentions, capabilities and priorities of any attackers. This drives a cyber-security dilemma, in which adversaries compete to penetrate each other’s nuclear weapon systems in part to secure their own."