£31 billion Trident defence system could be neutralised by mere computer hackers

Computer hackers could disable Trident.
Support us and go ad-free

A former British Defence Secretary, Lord Browne of Ladyton, has argued that, if renewed, the nation’s ageing nuclear defence program Trident is potentially vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Such an attack would make it feasible for the system to be shut down by computer hackers, effectively neutralising its supposed value as a deterrent.

The former Labour Minister, who served at the Ministry of Defence from 2006 to 2008, told the BBC that unless all parts of the system are assessed against the risk of cyber-attacks, and appropriate protections put in place,

there is no guarantee that we will have a reliable deterrent or the prime minister will be able to use this system when he needs to reach for it.

It is perhaps a little unsettling that Lord Browne uses the word ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ in the above sentence. But far more unsettling is the overall premise that a defence program, which recently updated figures suggest will cost £31 billion to implement, could conceivably be shut down by a computer whizz with a decent internet connection. In reality, this is not as simple as it sounds, of course, but we should consider just how heavily terrorist organisations such as Daesh/Islamic State use computers.

That online hacking groups consider it worthwhile to declare ‘cyber-war‘ on Daesh is an indicator of just how intensively the Radical Wahhabist group rely on the worldwide web, and for it to be so important to them is in turn an indicator that there must be at least a handful of serious hacking experts among their number.

Given how wretchedly inappropriate nuclear weapons are for fighting the types of warfare that Radical Wahhabism gravitates towards, one might be forgiven for a shrug-of-the-shoulders at this. “It just proves what we already knew,” one might argue, “that the system is as expensive as it is useless in fighting terrorism.” There is something in that, and surely a good reason to support Jeremy Corbyn’s accepted role as the sole real-world voice in a Parliamentary fantasy land.

But of course, if hackers could access the innermost software of Trident, there is the possibility – it must be stressed much more remote – that they could go further than merely neutralising the system. If a shutdown is possible, is it not also possible that they might even be able to take over parts of the system? I stress again, the chances would be very remote indeed, but their realisation would make Trident more than just a useless waste of money spent on winning a Cold War that ended decades ago; it could actually be dangerous to the very people it is meant to protect.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Another former Defence Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind – he of ‘getting-away-with-blatant-and sleazy-cash-for-access‘ fame – responded to Browne’s concerns in tones so reassuring as to be thoroughly casual. Casual enough, in fact, that even his choice of words was almost blasé;

The whole point of our nuclear weapons is not whether they would work – 100% guarantee – if they were ever required. You think they will do.

The question is whether an enemy contemplating aggression would be prepared to take the risk.

To repeat, the man who spoke the words above was, frighteningly, the Secretary of State for Defence between 1992 and 1995, and he is stating quite explicitly that whether nuclear weapons will work or not is a secondary concern. So for instance, if the guidance system on a cruise missile goes haywire and there is thus a danger that, instead of heading for an army base outside St. Petersburg, the missile is propelled at the Billingsgate Fish Market in Kingston-Upon-Hull, we should feel relaxed about it. The important thing is that our enemies think that the missile will work.

Rifkind’s reassurance, sticking strictly to the point, is absolutely useless because he is not actually indicating that a cyber-attack would fail. He just thinks enemies would be too scared to follow one up with a physical attack, just in case the attempted hack did not work as well as it seemed. While one can appreciate the idea that a possibly-hacked missile system would still be a powerful psychological deterrent against any sane enemy, Rifkind is perhaps overlooking the considerable dearth-of-sanity among some of the UK’s enemies. There is little doubt that the aforementioned Daesh, if they thought they could hack a nuclear weapons system, would try to do so. Certainly fear of reprisals would give them little pause-for-thought.

We already have reasons beyond measure for abandoning Trident. Its essential uselessness was underlined this week when the Prime Minister announced an implementation delay until the 2030’s for financial reasons. Surely, if Trident were as critical as its supporters are clamouring, such a delay would not be countenanced for mere reasons of money?

So, we are spending £31 billion for a defence system meant for a Cold War that has been over for around a quarter of a century. For a defence system almost non-deployable in modern warfare. For a defence system that, even if it could be used, would almost certainly trigger mutually-assured destruction. For a defence system that could conceivably be neutralised by computer hackers. For a defence system that could possibly be turned against its owners by computer hackers. For a defence system that is ‘vitally important’, and yet somehow not quite important enough to risk further damaging the already-failed program to eliminate the national deficit.

£31 billion for that? And when Jeremy Corbyn is one of the few in Parliament to oppose Trident’s renewal, he is the one accused of being ‘dangerous’ and ‘radical’? The implication that opponents of Trident are mad is not only offensive, it is downright back-to-front.

As a fictitious military man once said, “Who would have noticed another madman around here?’


Featured images via Wikimedia Commons.

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed