Computer errors that almost started nuclear wars

The argument from cyberspace for eliminating nuclear weapons  NOVEMBER 9, 2018 “…….Computer errors that almost started nuclear wars

Unclassified reports reveal that problems within the computers of nuclear command and control date back to at least the 1970s, when a deficient computer chip signalled that 200 Soviet missiles were headed towards the U.S. Computer problems have persisted: In 2010, a loose circuit card caused a U.S. launch control centre to lose contact with 50 nuclear missiles. In both cases, the accident might have been mistaken for a deliberate attack. Failing to recognize the mistake could have resulted in the U.S. launching nuclear weapons.

These cases were presumably the result of unintentional errors, not deliberate actions. But hacking and other forms of targeted cyberattacks greatly increase the risk of accidental nuclear launch or other devastating actions. Overconfidence on the part of the officials overseeing the nuclear arsenal is therefore negligent and dangerous.

A more recent compounding factor is the ongoing, roughly trillion-dollar upgrade of the U.S. nuclear arsenal started by the Obama administration. This so-called modernization effort included upgrades to the nuclear command and control system. The Trump administration continues to make this a priority.

Modernization increases the possibility that changes to the nuclear command and control system will introduce new or reveal hitherto unknown vulnerabilities into the system. The evidence from the GAO report and other publicly available documents indicates that the officials in charge will be emphasizing speed, convenience, or cost over cybersecurity.

In its conclusion, the GAO report explained that the DOD “has taken several major steps to improve weapon systems cybersecurity.” But the DOD “faces barriers that may limit its ability to achieve desired improvements,” such as constraints on information sharing and workforce shortages. That is not reassuring.

There is a more basic problem that we have emphasized above: the risks associated with cyberattacks can be ameliorated but not fully eliminated. When this intrinsic risk is integrated with the sheer destructiveness of nuclear weapons, the only way to avoid a catastrophic accident at some point in time is to embrace efforts to abolish the weapons themselves.


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