Cybersecurity of Nuclear Weapons Systems: Threats, Vulnerabilities and Consequences

Beyza Unal

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. Many of the assumptions on which current nuclear strategies are based pre-date the current widespread use of digital technology in nuclear command, control and communication systems.

There are a number of vulnerabilities and pathways through which a malicious actor may infiltrate a nuclear weapons system without a state’s knowledge. Human error, system failures, design vulnerabilities, and susceptibilities within the supply chain all represent common security issues in nuclear weapons systems. Cyberattack methods such as data manipulation, digital jamming and cyber spoofing could jeopardize the integrity of communication, leading to increased uncertainty in decision-making.

In this paper published by Chatham House, MENACS nonproliferation expert Dr. Beyza Unal writes with Dr. Patricia Lewis on the range of possibilities for how a cyberattack may lead to nuclear escalation. A commentary on the paper may also be found on The Telegraph.

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