Securing Command — Strategic commander worried about cyber attacks on nuclear command and control

At times, news like this makes one wonder if it’s a strong case of déjà vu that was probably never fully admitted.

U.S. strategic nuclear weapons and the command systems that control them are vulnerable to cyber attacks although most are hardened against many types of electronic attacks, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command said on Tuesday.

Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler said during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that nuclear weapons and the communications used to control them are older and thus less vulnerable to disruption by computer network attacks.

“However, we are very concerned with the potential of a cyber related attack on our nuclear command and control and on the weapons systems themselves,” Kehler said. “We do evaluate that.”

The four-star general was responding to questions about the security of nuclear controls outlined in a Defense Science Board report.

The report from January stated that U.S. nuclear forces are regularly assessed for their reliability and readiness but said “most of the systems have not been assessed against a sophisticated cyberattack to understand possible weak spots.”

Army Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command who testified with Kehler, said his command and Strategic Command recently assessed nuclear command and control vulnerabilities and ways to address them.

Alexander said he is also worried about the commercial electric power and communications grids as a “source of concern” by foreign powers seeking to conduct cyber attacks against U.S. nuclear forces.

Nuclear forces are currently protected with back up generators and independent communications routes, he said.

But [the backup system] complicates significantly our mission set,” Alexander said. “And it gets back to, in the cyber realm, for how the government and industry work together to ensure the viability of those key portions of our critical infrastructure.”

Asked how U.S. nuclear forces could operate if U.S. electric power was limited from nationwide cyber attacks, Kehler said: “The nuclear deterrent force was designed to operate through the most extreme circumstances we could possibly imagine. And so I am not concerned that a disruption in the power grid, for example, would disrupt our ability to continue to use that force if the president ever chose to do that or needed to do that.”

However, Kehler said he is concerned about electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks that could disrupt electronics. EMPs, first discovered from nuclear tests in the 1950s, could disrupt all electronic devices in a 1,000-mile range of the blast.

Alexander said U.S. infrastructure is vulnerable to attack.

“Generally speaking, all our systems today—our power systems, our water systems, our governments, our industry depend on computers, depend on computerized switches, depend on these networks, all are at risk,” he said. “If an adversary were to get in, they could essentially destroy those components, make those so they either had to replace them or get somebody to come in and replace each part of that.”

Full article: Securing Command — Strategic commander worried about cyber attacks on nuclear command and control (Washington Free Beacon)

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