cyber nuclear war

Nuclear weapons around the world are too vulnerable to cyber attack, expert warns

Nuclear weapons around the world are insufficiently defended from the risk of a cyber-attack, increasing the risk of nuclear war, according to one of Europe’s leading cyber-warfare experts.

Dr Sandro Gaycken, director of the Digital Society Institute at the ESMT Berlin business school and director of Nato’s SPS Cyberdefence project, says that governments spend their time wrangling over irrelevant matters and are “incompetent” when it comes to the highly complex problem of keeping nuclear arsenals safe from hackers.

In a paper, he said: “Governments are barely able to cope when it comes to key issues such as digital pickpocketing – they simply do not understand the problem, its causes or possible solutions.

“And they struggle to get sufficient numbers of specialised cyber experts to help, instead relying on hordes or lobbyists, pseudo-experts and opportunists. They cannot separate the wheat from the chaff.”

Gaycken added that the consequences of the situation could be terrible, “a cyberattack could, for instance, lead to computers crashing and setting off nuclear weapons inadvertently. Russia’s ‘Dead Hand’ system could be susceptible to this. In another scenario, the infected computers do not switch off, but react in an unpredictable fashion. In that scenario anything is possible.”

The similarity between systems in China, Pakistan and North Korea could lead to one bug destabilising the entire region’s nuclear arsenal, he warned.

“All of these systems have a similar technical set-up meaning that if a cyber attack intended for one of them finds its way into the computers controlling either of the others, we could have a situation where up to 3,000 nuclear missiles are affected by one attack.”

In 2015 it was warned that nuclear power plants are also at risk of cyber attack, with a number of attacks on systems having already taken place. 

Prime Minister Theresa May has also stressed the importance of cyber security during the upcoming UK election so that outside forces cannot influence the result. 

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