Little is understood about cyber threats to nuclear weapons, due to the sensitive nature of these systems. All digital systems are vulnerable, however, and the risks are real: cyber attacks could be used to steal sensitive information about nuclear weapons, interrupt critical communications, manipulate warning systems or undermine confidence in nuclear deterrent forces—ultimately increasing nuclear risks.
NTI brought together high-level former senior military and government officials, policy experts, and cybersecurity experts to form a Cyber-Nuclear Weapons Study Group. The group examined the implications of cyber threats to nuclear weapons and related systems and has developed a set of options for our nuclear policies, postures, and doctrines that will reduce risks.
NTI’s new report, Nuclear Weapons in the New Cyber Age, addresses the study group’s chilling conclusion that a successful cyberattack on nuclear weapons or related systems—including nuclear planning systems, early warning systems, communication systems, and delivery systems, in addition to the nuclear weapons themselves—could have catastrophic consequences. The report assesses credible, real-world scenarios in which a cyberattack could lead to a nuclear launch as a result of false warnings or miscalculation, increase the risk of unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon, and undermine confidence in the nuclear deterrent, affecting strategic stability. The report also offers a series of high-level recommendations for mitigating these threats, but ultimately poses the question “In an age of cyberwarfare, has the nuclear deterrence strategy that helped guide the West and the Soviet Union through the Cold War become dangerously obsolete?”