back to article Trident nuke subs are hackable, thunders Wikipedia-based report

A group of anti-nuclear campaigners have claimed Britain’s nuclear deterrent submarines are vulnerable to hackers – and their report setting out the “evidence” quotes, in part, from Wikipedia. The British American Security Information Council (BASIC) reckoned that Blighty’s four Vanguard-class nuclear missile submarines could …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On the whole, we can still sleep safely in our beds tonight regardless of this report.

    Boom!

    Had you going...

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      1. Tom Paine Silver badge

        Re: July Gold Boojum

        Yes, that's right. " Nuclear deterrent" is your Google term.

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: July Gold Boojum

        NATO doctrine for most of the Cold War was to use nuclear weapons first, in certain circumstances. Mostly to wipe out large Soviet tank formations breaking through NATO lines. There was an awful lot of theorisiing about nuclear escalation paths, and the difference between tactical, theatre and strategic nuclear weapons. Not as much in reality as people hoped, I rather suspect...

        Trident is accurate enough to use as a counter-force weapon. Though the UK hasn't ever held that nuclear posture, as it would have been too expensive. So our policy has always been limited but massive retaliatory strike as deterrent.

        Where the enemy has liquid fuelled ICBMs (say North Korea), a first strike with your solid fuelled (quicker to launch) ones may be a possibility, if you're convinced they're about to fire.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's an obvious error in this article.

    It should be "water-gapped".

    Is that coat mine?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There's an obvious error in this article.

      No error in the article, just your reading.

      "...Avoiding quick decisions is the whole reason for putting nuclear missiles on submarines, and water-gapping is considerably more effective than just air-gapping..."

  3. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Sounds about as well researched as one of the 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' books where a hacker was described as being so amazing he'd been able to take control of a RN submarine as it patrolled the deeps. Actually thinking about it, have they used that as a reference?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Was his name Tetsuo Shima?

      And what does that have to do with girls who may or may not have tattoos of dragons?

    2. DavCrav Silver badge

      "Sounds about as well researched as one of the 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' books where a hacker was described as being so amazing he'd been able to take control of a RN submarine as it patrolled the deeps."

      That's at least physically possible. In an episode of Bones, an ueber-hacker etches a virus on a bone, so that when it's scanned into the system it infects the protagonist's computer.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Them dry bones!

        Bone-borne computer virus?

        Definitely a new approach at snow crashing things.

      2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        DavCrav

        That's rather plausible... IF you know their OCR is active on all images/files (as part of the scanning suite... because they ALWAYS add automated junk to those HP drivers ;) ) and know their is an exploit to run code (say like that MS defender scanning bug or some other exploit).

        I don't mind shows and films pulling out the improbable, but when they do the impossible, it should be with some humor! https://youtu.be/u8qgehH3kEQ

        1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          Re: DavCrav

          Was the hacker called Little Bobby Tables?

      3. SkippyBing Silver badge

        'That's at least physically possible.'

        It really isn't. Unless he was actually on the submarine.

      4. The Bionic Man

        Or introns infected a super AI in The Deus Machine by Pierre Ouellette

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Normal USB Attack Vector

    I keep thinking of someone picking up a USB stick off the seabed outside of the submarine.....

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Re: Normal USB Attack Vector

      Would that be when they sneak outside for a cigarette?

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Normal USB Attack Vector

      USB is only a quick letter swap away from SUB - those Goddam Russkies will sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids before we know it!

      1. W4YBO

        Re: Normal USB Attack Vector

        General Ripper!?

      2. Mike Moyle Silver badge

        Re: Normal USB Attack Vector

        I thought USB stood for UnterSeeBoot.

        1. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: Normal USB Attack Vector

          The biggest risk is picking up Castaways or hitchhikers;

          'Mind if I plug this in? I haven't listened to any good music for ages'.

          1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

            Re: Normal USB Attack Vector

            I suppose on the plus side, the Russians have little incentive to hack our submarines to launch a first strike against Russia. Although now I've written that, I can't help but wonder...

    3. Black Betty

      Re: Normal USB Attack Vector

      No this is where some numpty of an ensign doesn't see anything wrong with installing Конфеты хруст on a work terminal or possibly even just the onboard crew entertainment system.

      Just how air gapped/integrated are the onboard systems from/with each other. Can a thumb drive plugged in in the forward torpedo room conceivably affect anything in the engine room?

      The danger of networked systems on a war vessel is that a saboteur no longer needs physical access to a system to compromise it. Furthermore computerisation makes possible sabotage that stays hidden until the captain punches the great big "This is not a drill" button.

  5. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Single Point of Failure

    Even if the subs have secure IT, the policy of at times only having one loaded and at sea does mean that our deterrent has a single point of failure.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Single Point of Failure

      Thought there were two?

      Then one in dock and the other one in repair / refit....

      1. collinsl

        Re: Single Point of Failure

        There are 4, of which 1 is always on patrol and 1 is always in maintenance. The other 2 can be on exercise or patrol as required.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Single Point of Failure

          "There are 4,"

          It's still a bit of a stretch for the report to refer to them as a "fleet" though. I'm not sure what the minimum number is to call a collection of vessels a fleet, but 4 doesn't cut it for me ;-)

          1. James O'Shea Silver badge

            Re: Single Point of Failure

            In a Real Navy, two to four of the same kind of ship is a 'division', two to four divisions would be a 'squadron', more than four divisions would be a 'flotilla' ('little fleet') and a bunch of squadrons, divisions, not all of the same type, and whatnot a 'fleet'. Alternatively, instead of grouping things by type of ship you could group them by task. A small task would get a 'task group' of 2-7 ships of varying type, typically in these times a few anti-submarine ships and a few anti-air-warfare ships, the ASW ships usually being unable to defend themselves against surface or air threats, the AAW ships being able to hit surface or air threats but not being much good against subs. Real Navies (that would be American, Russian, French, and Indian) would typically have an aircraft carrier or an amphibious assault ship or both in there as well, and might have support ships such as tankers. A 'task force' would be a larger group, often consisting of multiple task groups. In Ye Goode Olde Daze of 1945, British Pacific Fleet operated as Task Force 57 inside the United States Fifth Fleet. British Pacific Fleet had six fleet carriers, four light carriers, 9 escort carriers, four battleships, 11 cruisers (including 2 each New Zealand and Canadian, the Australian cruisers were operating with MacArthur's Navy, a.k.a. US 7th Fleet) plus lots more. Fifth Fleet had over 530 ships, including TF 57.

            Four subs isn't even a flotilla.

            1. Pedigree-Pete Bronze badge
              Coat

              Re: Single Point of Failure

              Good info J O'S. however, "Four subs isn't even a flotilla." Would not a flotilla need to float, generally considered to be on the surface, to be called that. OK subs do float in a buoyancy kind of way.

              Mines the one with Jane's in the pocket.

              1. JohnG Silver badge

                Re: Single Point of Failure

                "OK subs do float in a buoyancy kind of way."

                Subs that don't float are unpopular with crew members.

                1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

                  Re: Single Point of Failure

                  Subs that don't float are unpopular with crew members.

                  Not for long though...

                  Wasn't it the USS (should that be CSS?) Hunley in the Civil War that sank 3 times. Killing 21 members of those 3 different crews. Only managed to get into one battle, won (just barely), but sank on the way back to port in water too deep to raise it. So no more Confederate crews had to suffer.

                  1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

                    Re: Single Point of Failure

                    Actually, won quite convincingly. Sunk its target rapidly, within 5 minutes......

              2. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

                Re: Single Point of Failure

                ....Would not a flotilla need to float, generally considered to be on the surface..

                No. Subs do float, even when they are underwater, unless they are resting on the sea bed.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Single Point of Failure

            4 doesn't cut it as a fleet for me either, but we are talking about the politicians / mandarins who gave us aircraft carriers with no aircraft, contracted to buy aircraft that don't work yet but had sold the ones that did before that anyway, etc etc

  6. 0laf Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Boom

    Mate of mine used to be a submariner on a Trident boat and wangled a tour for a few mates including me.

    The systems on those boats look like well maintained relics from the late 70s early 80s (probably because they are). I can't imagine there is much hacking that can be done without a screwdriver and a soldering iron.

    My mate's work console had a worrying resemblance to Homer Simpson's station at the power-plant.

    So no, not really worried about a v boat being hacked by hippies with iPads.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Boom

      If the command system got hacked and the "correct" signal sent out then Russia could be warmed a "bucket of sunshine"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Boom

        If the command system got hacked and the "correct" signal sent out then Russia could be warmed a "bucket of sunshine"

        The reply will be a quick conversion of most of the UK to a glass lake. 16 missiles versus 1600. Not a pretty math.

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Boom

          What is the figure of 1600 based on? I thought it was based on a rough guess and assumptions that pretty much all of the soviet era stuff is in use and maintained perfectly.

          The Russians sensibly refuse to comment but given their known defence budget and known spending their figure is almost certainly closer to 16 than 1600.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Boom

            In Soviet days it used to be 200 cities in the UK that were individually targeted. Doubt thats changed much.

            1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              Re: Boom

              In Soviet days it used to be 200 cities in the UK that were individually targeted. Doubt thats changed much.

              No cities are supposed to be targetted. Assuming the Russians (and we) are sticking to our post Cold War agreements. That de-escalation was agreed with Yeltsin in the 90s. Along with the removal of tactical nuclear weapons from deployment into storage. This means that it takes an extra few minutes to launch, and supposedly gives more time to think - as well as reducing everyone's readiness state a little.

          2. JohnG Silver badge

            Re: Boom

            "The Russians sensibly refuse to comment but given their known defence budget and known spending their figure is almost certainly closer to 16 than 1600."

            The Russians have about 7300 nuclear warheads - like us, they can't test them, due to treaty constraints. However, they do test one of the possible delivery systems every time they send people to the ISS. They have recently tested new delivery systems and newer systems are in development e.g. RS-28 Sarmat AKA SS-X-30 SATAN 2.

        2. Paul Kinsler

          Re: The reply will be a quick conversion of most of the UK to a glass lake.

          And then, this:

          http://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1063/1.3047679

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The reply will be a quick conversion of most of the UK to a glass lake.

            And then, this:

            http://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1063/1.3047679

            (from cited article)

            100 Hiroshima-sized weapons would pose a worldwide threat due to ozone destruction and climate change. A superpower confrontation with a few thousand weapons would be catastrophic.

            I'm not convinced that 100 13kt weapons would cause the effects claimed in that theory.

            I say that because there have been 2053 nuclear tests from 1945 to when the test ban treaty was put in place, many of which have been much larger than 13 kilotons, such as the 57,000 kiloton Tsar Bomba that the Russians detonated. (nice graphical detonation map below)

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9lquok4Pdk

            (note that many of these tests are not actual detonations, such as testing new warhead designs to see if they would explode if set on fire etc)

            However, there have been way more than 100 detonations, and the theory is quite demonstrably incorrect as the effects suggested haven't happened in real world tests. It does however serve as a good way of keeping people scared of nuclear weapons, which helps discourage people from actually using them which in turn achieves the stated aim of deterrence. So it's a good thing, even if the scientific process gets massacred in the process.

        3. Mark Dempster

          Re: Boom

          >The reply will be a quick conversion of most of the UK to a glass lake. 16 missiles versus 1600. Not a pretty math.<

          Which is why Trident can carry multiple independently-targeted warheads per missile; up to 12 each I believe, although 8 is the norm. Of course the Russians also have similar capability and more missiles, but it's overkill. What we have is enough to inflict huge damage on them, which is a sufficient deterrent to make a first strike unthinkable (except for the current crop of Tories, it appears...)

        4. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

          Re: Boom

          "The reply will be a quick conversion of most of the UK to a glass lake."

          Now, that would be an unreasonable "hard Brexit".

        5. Dave the Cat

          Re: Boom

          @ AC

          The Vanguard boats were designed to carry 16 missiles each with 12 independent warheads (MIRVs) for a total of 192 warheads per boat. This is the thing with nukes, and the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine, once your past a few tens of warheads, ultimate numbers don't really mean that much. Even if only 50% of UK warheads were to get through, that's still enough to destroy several major Russian cities and quite literally millions of it's citizens. Sure Russia might be able to turn the UK "to a glass lake" but we can wipe out a huge chunk of the Russian population in return. No one wins, and that's the whole point of MAD.

          Currently the Vanguard boats deploy with 8 missiles on board, with each missile carrying 6 warheads. Following the 1998 strategic defence review, the UK has <200 warheads. Still enough to do serious damage and still the whole point of MAD.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Boom

        >If the command system got hacked and the "correct" signal sent out then Russia could be warmed a "bucket of sunshine"

        Even if it were possible to launch, it wouldn't get far - our American cousins are required to provide guidance once it breaks the surface. It's only an independent deterrent to the extent we choose when and where to park it....and the US doesn't get to launch them without our approval.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Boom

          The submarines use GPS to work out where they are. Or more accurately to calibrate their inertial navigation gear, as they only get GPS data when at periscope depth with an antenna up.

          The warheads themselves use a star-tracker to get their position, so don't need GPS.

          So you're incorrect. It's an independent deterrent until the US refuse to cooperate on maintenance. At which point the missiles have a ten year rated lifespan, and we usually have 2 or 3 boats loaded at any one time. So we could probably maintain a credible reduced deterrent for 6 months to a couple of years.

          So not enough to get a replacement solution in place, but long enough that the US can't cut us off at the knees halfway through a crisis.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Boom

            Spartacus,

            you're going to upset a lot of my Corbyn-supporting friends.They've been busy going round telling people we have to ask American permission to launch, and here you are, providing information that doesn't support the party line. Oh no, wait, it does support the party line, just not the party leader's line.

            Who needs facts and accuracy when we have politicians as an alternative? ;)

          2. Mark Dempster

            Re: Boom

            >So you're incorrect. It's an independent deterrent until the US refuse to cooperate on maintenance. At which point the missiles have a ten year rated lifespan, and we usually have 2 or 3 boats loaded at any one time. So we could probably maintain a credible reduced deterrent for 6 months to a couple of years.

            So not enough to get a replacement solution in place, but long enough that the US can't cut us off at the knees halfway through a crisis.<

            And that maintainance is only a contractual obligation. I'd be VERY surprised if the Navy didn't have people with the required skills available to do the work if needed.

            1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              Re: Boom

              And that maintainance is only a contractual obligation. I'd be VERY surprised if the Navy didn't have people with the required skills available to do the work if needed.

              According to Peter Hennessey's book on the RN submarine service since the Cold War (that I'm currently on the last chapter of) that wouldn't be so easy.

              With Polaris we had a maintenance facility at Coulport. So we'd pull missiles from the joint pool held in the US, bring them over to the UK and maintain them for a while ourselves. Only sending them back for major refits - or more likely permanent replacement. Obviously that gave us stocks of spares and trained personnel.

              The US offered to share the maintenance of Trident, which was accepted as it saved money. The reason for this appears to have been that Trident was newer, and so designed to need much less maintenance. Supposedly you could load a Trident missile into the sub, and leave it there in the silo for ten years, before it needed a total refit. Plus they're designed so that maintenance can be done on them in-silo. According to his RN sources, this meant we could carry on operations without US support for longer with Trident, even without maintenance facilities and spares stocks of our own. Which is where that 6 months to a couple of years figure comes from.

              I'm sure we could reverse engineer physical parts, with sufficient applications of money. But the electronics would be much tougher. I'm also sure we've got maintenance experience, and several other solid rocket missile companies manufacture in the UK - so I suspect they could keep a diminishing number of missiles going for a while, by cannibalising the others for parts.

              We also licensed MIRVs with Trident, rather than using our home-grown Chevaline. That has the star-trackers and countermeasures, but not as many, and though you get to hit more than one target with your warheads, I think they have to be reasonably close together. Given our satellite industry, I'd have thought MIRVs would be much easier and cheaper than they looked in the 70s.

              We ought to be able to design a good-enough solid fuel missile in 5-10 years, given a crash program and lots of cash. I'm sure BAe would be delighted to help...

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