Hacking poses danger in cyberwarfare

 

In 2010, 50 nuclear-armed Minuteman missiles parked in underground siloes in Wyoming mysteriously disappeared from their launching crews' monitors for nearly an hour.

This is not a movie plotline. It really happened.

It was a harrowing scene, and apprehension rippled all the way to the White House.

The Air Force quickly determined that an improperly installed circuit card in an underground computer was responsible for the lockout, and the problem was fixed.

The nation's leaders ordered investigators to continue to look for similar vulnerabilities and they soon turned up a number of deficiencies that had to be repaired.

After the Cold War - which never erupted due to the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union - teachers stopped drilling their students to dive under their desks if a nuclear attack alarm sounded.

But now, in 2017, we're seeing headlines that say "North Korea calls ballistic missile test-fire a success" and "U.S. warns North Korea attack is an option."

On March 14, the New York Times published a story by Bruce G. Blair. Here's the lead:

"It is tempting for the United States to exploit its superiority to cyberwarfare to hobble the nuclear forces of North Korea or other opponents. As a new form of missile defense, cyberwarfare seems to offer the possibility of preventing nuclear strikes without the firing of a single nuclear warhead. But as with many things involving nuclear weaponry, escalation of this strategy has a downside: United States forces are also vulnerable to such attacks."

This editorial is not intended to restart under-the-desk drills and we hope that worrisome insomnia doesn't become an American epidemic, but there are some suggestions that should be activated to lessen the dangers:

One stopgap remedy is to take United States and Russian strategic nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert.

We need to better understand the unintended consequences of cyberwarfare - such as possibly weakening another nation's safeguards against unauthorized launching - which could trigger retaliation.

We need to improve control over our nuclear supply chain. Nuclear missiles are being trucked over our nation's highways to maintenance shops.

It's time to reach an agreement with our rivals on the red lines. The reddest line should put nuclear networks off limits to cyberintrusion.

Cyberwarfare is now considered extremely annoying but less deadly than the historic battles on the planet's killing fields and in urban areas.

But if nuclear pandemonium breaks out it could threaten Earth's entire civilization and we have not yet been able to colonize Mars.

 

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