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About “hacked” missiles and common sense

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Some headlines can be very scary! The phrase "Why Our [US] Nuclear Weapons Can Be Hacked" could not help but catch our attention. And indeed, the accompanying news article describes vulnerabilities—granted, not within the missiles themselves, but within the launch system.

Thanks to deficiencies detected in Minuteman missile silos, hackers could launch the missiles or delay their launch as they see fit.

To put it mildly, a situation that allows someone to launch a missile whenever they want is somewhat alarming. And against that backdrop, the manufacturer looks quite irresponsible.

Boeing, the manufacturer, has issued assurances that the missiles are well protected against hackers even though they entered service in 1970.

But what vulnerabilities are we talking about?

Two were found. A silo is equipped with a backup antenna that is used to receive a launch signal if the main control is not operational. This antenna can receive commands from a plane if they can't be issued from the ground. A hacker can use the antenna to shut down missile flight guidance systems which would require days or even weeks of repair. The second vulnerability is a complex underground communication system that connects all the silos. If a perpetrator gains access to one cable, they can control the entire network.

Of course, we don't know exactly how the US military guards ballistic missiles, but it’s hard to imagine any unidentified planes circling over ballistic missile silos.

That is to say, the vulnerabilities in question are only a means to gaining access to the controls. But in order to gain this access, attackers would need to neutralise the guards and gain entrance to the tunnels (surely, a big padlock is affixed to the entrance door, right?). And once they got hold of a cable, they would still need to determine the protocol used to transfer commands.

Boeing has given its assurances that Minuteman missiles are well protected from hacker attacks. However, according to Peggy Morse, the Director of Strategic Missile Systems at Boeing, the missiles have some "age-related" shortcomings. For example, their command and control system is very old. Within it, there's a network called HICS (Hardened Intersite Cable System) which is made of copper wire and has limited bandwidth. Yet, Morse claims that despite its age, the system is "very secure" as is the entire launching mechanism.

The word “however” should in theory hint that there exist doubts about the system's impregnability to hacker attacks, but the text only contains a complaint about the low throughput of old cable systems. It’s clear that in ancient times no fiber optic cables existed, but why bring hackers into it?

#vulnerability #hacker

The Anti-virus Times recommends

  • Hearing the word "vulnerability" spoken is instantly anxiety inducing, but few people realise that, more often than not, to exploit one, attackers need to accomplish a series of very difficult tasks. For example, texts about vulnerabilities often contain the phrase "to exploit the vulnerability an attacker will need physical access to a computer". Well, if a hacker has physical access to a machine, he won't need an exploit to steal whatever he wants!
  • In reality, very few supposedly “hot” news items are really deserving of our attention. ALWAYS evaluate objectively what you read!


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