Andrii Degeler, Ars Technica
1 April 2016
Britain reportedly plans to apply a software update to its 58 Trident II missiles amid concerns of possible cyber attacks. The nuclear deterrent will be serviced by BAE Systems, which also carries out routine maintenance.
The US—which is the other user of the 25-year-old Trident system—will upgrade its missiles as well. Although both countries use the same type of missiles, their nuclear warheads are built and supported separately.
The upgrade project forms part of the increase in cash allocated to cyber security in the UK: the Ministry of Defence will set aside £1.9 billion for this plan between now and 2021, more than doubling the previous five years' spend of £860 million.
Meanwhile, the US government plans to spend some £24 billion over the next five years to boost its cyber security effort.
“Now that cyber has become even more important in our national security, there will be even more requirements,” US Navy spokesman John Daniels told Bloomberg. “In our modern era, cyber-security threats are a legitimate concern.”
However, the possibility of the Trident system being deviously fired by a hacker isn't a serious cyber security risk, Leicester University's nuclear strategy expert Andrew Futter told The Telegraph. Apparently, the missiles aren't connected to the Internet while the submarine is on a mission, and their software isn't responsible for the actual launch.
A bigger threat would be that malicious software could be loaded onto the deterrent during maintenance in port in order to steal design or operational secrets. It could also possibly sabotage or damage the missiles.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said earlier this week that "the deterrent remains safe and secure," before adding: "We take our responsibility to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent extremely seriously and continually assess the security of the whole deterrent programme and its operational effectiveness, including against threats from cyber."
In total, Britain is understood to control 225 nuclear warheads that make up its submarine-based nuclear deterrent. A Trident missile can carry up to 12 warheads, while a Vanguard-class boat carries up to 48 warheads loaded onto 16 missiles on routine deployments.
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