Monday, July 11, 2016

Cyber Threats and Nuclear Weapons

Dr Andrew Futter, University of Leicester,is  speaking on "Cyber Threats and Nuclear Weapons: New Questions for Command and Control, Security and Strategy" at the Australian National University in Canberra. Dr Futter argues that the Internet amplifies the risks with nuclear weapons. The scenario in the film "War Games" is more possible. He commented that the 2012 Glogal Zero US Nuclear Policy Commission Report raised more questions than it answered.
Dr Futter pointed out that nuclear weapons are inherently vulnerable, as they must be ready for use at any time, while also being under central control. One example was a training tape loaded into a US system which made the operators believe there was a real alert. Dr Futter commented that with a more on-line system it will be harder to detect such errors.

Dr Futter suggested that non-state actors were more likely to mount a cyber-attack to cause an un-commanded launch of a nuclear attack, a state actor was more likely to try to disable an opponents weapons. It seems to me that the risk with a state sponsored attack would be so high that this is unlikely to be attempted, expect by a "rogue" state. A more likely scenario is an attack on conventional command and control systems would disable nuclear weapons as a side-effect.

Dr Futter also included hacking of an Israel Defense Force Twitter account to spread false information about a nuclear accident. He also pointed out that an attack does not need to be on the weapons system: disabling the sewage system on a submarine will disable it as a weapon.

Dr Futter then discussed the different nature of cyber and nuclear weapons and the feasibility of responding to a cyber attack with a nuclear weapon. It occurs to me that cyber weapons are more like biological and chemical weapons: they are unpredictable in their effectiveness, may harm the attacker more than the attacked. On the one hand a cyber attack is deniable, on the other its source may be detected but then have little effect, resulting in a large political damage for no military value.

Dr Futter commented that he hoped Nuclear Weapons Officers did not freely discuss their jobs on-line. This got a laugh from the audience, but a search of Facebook for "Nuclear Weapons Officer" resulted in several hits and more than one hundred listed on LinkedIn.

Dr Futter recommended Ghost fleet : a novel of the next world war by P.W. Singer and August Cole, as a fictional but perhaps prescient view of the future, where the only military equipment working is pre-Internet-of-Things. Also one of the audience members, Adam Henschke, mentioned his book (edited with Fritz Allhoff) "Binary bullets : the ethics of cyberwarfare" (I ran the ANU IT students through a hypothetical on the ethics of cyberwarfare over the South China Sea last semester).

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