US, British and other nuclear weapons systems are increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks, according to a new study by the international relations thinktank Chatham House.
The threat has received scant attention so far from those involved in nuclear military planning and the procurement of weapons, the report said.
It blames this partly on failure to keep up with fast-moving advances, lack of skilled staff and the slowness of institutional change.
“Nuclear weapons systems were developed before the advancement of computer technology and little consideration was given to potential cyber vulnerabilities. As a result, current nuclear strategy often overlooks the widespread use of digital technology in nuclear systems,” the authors of the study said.
Nuclear weapons systems are at threat from hostile states, criminal groups and terrorist organisations exploiting cyber vulnerabities.
“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,” the report said.
It cited examples such as a report the US could have infiltrated the supply chain of North Korea’s missile system that contributed to a test failure in April last year. The silos of US nuclear-tipped Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles “are believed to be particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks”.
The study also recorded illicit trafficking in Moldova and Georgia of radioactive and nuclear materials; a group in Belgium affiliated to Islamic State monitoring the movements of a nuclear scientist; and German-owned Patriot missiles reported to have been hacked in 2015.