back to article Blighty's nuclear deterrent will get a software upgrade amid cyber-war fears

Software powering Britain's nuclear-tipped Trident II missiles is to be updated following fears of a cyber-attack, according to reports. The Daily Telegraph reported that Britain's Trident missiles, currently carried by the Royal Navy's Vanguard-class submarines, are to receive software updates to help guard against cyber- …

  1. Naselus

    Now upgrading to Trident 98, with integrated dial-up networking...

  2. Simon Ward
    FAIL

    Windows For Warheads ...

    ... yep, I feel safer already.

    1. To Mars in Man Bras!
      Mushroom

      Re: Windows For Warheads ...

      "Hi —it looks like you're trying to launch a nuclear missile..."

      1. VinceH Silver badge

        Re: Windows For Warheads ...

        "Currently installing update 3 of 43. Please do not switch off or launch any nuclear missiles until this process is complete."

    2. GitMeMyShootinIrons

      Re: Windows For Warheads ...

      It's alright, they're deploying Microsoft Security Essentials. The world is safe again.

  3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Britain's 225 nuclear warheads were developed and supported entirely separately from the US by the Berkshire-based Atomic Weapons Establishment. [...] Each of Britain's 58 Trident II missiles are maintained at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport, on the remote shores of Loch Long in Scotland.

    Maintained by the English but stored in Scotland, so if there's an accident the home counties won't get irradiated

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Also because it would be a bit silly storing the warheads in the home counties and the submarines in Scotland, generally you try and keep the weapons storage in the same postcode as the delivery system to avoid carting quite dangerous stuff all over the place. Why keep the submarines in Scotland some aggrieved Scot Nat will surely ask, because Faslane is the cloudiest place in the UK which made (makes?) it harder for foreign satellites to count the number of submarines alongside.

      Rest assured despite many attempts by the US Air Force no one has yet managed to make a nuclear device go off by accident, it's almost as if they're designed not to.

      1. Mad Mike

        "Each of Britain's 58 Trident II missiles are maintained at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport, on the remote shores of Loch Long in Scotland."

        Lazy journalism. As explained above, the warheads are British and maintained in England, but stored and deployed in Scotland.

        However, the missiles (which is what the article actually says) are not maintained at Coulport at all. They are actually leased from the USA and maintained within a communal pool in America!!

        https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/no-america-doesnt-control-britains-nuclear-weapons/

        1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

          You're quoting a blog run by students.

          All the maintenance is at Coulport. AWE's various sites are mainly for R&D - particularly their sites in, er, the south-east county of Berkshire.

          1. Mad Mike

            "You're quoting a blog run by students."

            I assume this is to me. Unfortunately, just about everyone disagrees with you and agrees with the "students".

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trident_nuclear_programme#Vanguard-class_submarines

            OK. It's Wikipedia. However, it clearly states that missiles are maintained from a stock in the USA and co-mingled with the US Atlantic fleet. It also states the warheads are manufactured in the South of England.

            The following Parliament notes also clearly say that UK Trident submarines must visit King's Bay, Georgia regularly to switch their Trident missiles for maintenance. It also states the warheads are manufactured at Aldermaston.

            http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmdfence/986/986we13.htm

            As I said, lazy journalism. However, having watched the BBC for many years, almost all their correspondents have little idea of what they're talking about. They regularly misidentify and misreport almost everything under the sun.

            1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

              When journalism is lazy, AI and IT are dangerous internetworking things ‽ .

              As I said, lazy journalism. However, having watched the BBC for many years, almost all their correspondents have little idea of what they're talking about. They regularly misidentify and misreport almost everything under the sun...... Mad Mike

              Hi, Mad Mike,

              Is not all news, stories spun subjectively to micro/macromanage a greater median perception with hidden agendas/secretive plans/politically incorrect projects ….. Governments Admit that Much of Modern History Has Been Manipulated By False Flag Attacks….. educating, entertaining and informing one of another existence/virtual reality/fearful state/crazy space?

              Who and/or what does the truth hurt, whenever news is tall tales which mislead, misidentify and misreport almost everything under the sun?

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          > deployed in Scotland.

          Hopefully they are deployed in Russia (well more specifically hopefully they aren't deployed)

          de·ploy

          dəˈploi/

          verb

          move (troops) into position for military action.

          bring into effective action; utilize.

          1. Simon Harris Silver badge

            The range of a Trident is quoted as being over 4000 nautical miles - which is somewhat further than the distance from Scotland to Moscow, although they might fall a little short of Vladivostok if launched from Scotland.

      2. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Obscured by clouds...

        "Why keep the submarines in Scotland some aggrieved Scot Nat will surely ask, because Faslane is the cloudiest place in the UK which made (makes?) it harder for foreign satellites to count the number of submarines alongside."

        And I thought security through obscurity was supposed to be a bad thing!

        1. Scott Pedigo
          Mushroom

          Re: Obscured by clouds...

          Is it the Microsoft Cloud?

      3. WraithCadmus

        I was also told the reason for building HMNB Clyde was the hydrography is well-suited to submarine operations, deep with a narrow entrance. Should I go looking for a chart to confirm this or will that get me put on a list?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Mushroom

      Nuclear Accidents can happen..

      It's already happened and they've been shipping the waste south in revenge for years.

      How else can you explain Irn-Bru?

      1. Jimathy

        Re: Nuclear Accidents can happen..

        And we ship it right back North in the form of Buckfast......so the circle is complete.

      2. Jimathy
        Angel

        Re: Nuclear Accidents can happen..

        ...we add alcohol and immediately send it back North in big tankers labelled Buckfast......so the circle is complete.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > so if there's an accident the home counties won't get irradiated

      Well, of course. Wouldn't want anywhere that mattered to be affected!.

  4. DavCrav Silver badge

    "...carrying 48 warheads, loaded onto 16 missiles. Each Royal Navy missile carries an average of three warheads on routine deployments."

    Is the second sentence there for those of us incapable of dividing 48 by 16?

    1. Phil W

      To be fair the first sentence did not explicitly state that the 48 warheads were evenly distributed between the 16 missiles and there is no information provided as to the maximum number of warheads each missiles can carry.

      48 warheads across 16 missiles could be 15 missiles with 1 warhead each plus 1 missile with 33 warheads, for those occasions when you want to blow up one target a lot and 15 targets only a bit.

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Trident II is physically capable of carrying up to 14 warheads per missile - I have a feeling that some nuclear weapon limitation treaties may reduce the number they are allowed to carry.

        1. TheSkunkyMonk

          Kinda funny how we actually have rules on how bad we can nuke someone

          1. NotBob

            Especially since, having been hit with the first one, you are unlikely to complain about being more dead from the next dozen or so.

            Probably helps protect whoever moves in and takes over after the fallout clears. Certainly makes life more pleasant for those down wind. Ends up looking like saying you can't have a machine gun unless you limit it to firing no more than 2 shots per second (or some other arbitrarily low number).

  5. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    what happened to the tactical nukes?

    I thought we still had a few tactical nukes lying around hence the decision to keep tornado (since it was part of its original weapons package)?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: what happened to the tactical nukes?

      The WE177 went out of service years ago. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WE.177

      1. bitmap animal
        Mushroom

        Re: what happened to the tactical nukes?

        A new shiny F35 + Trident carefully joined together with copious amounts of BAE gaffer tape should be one hell of a replacement......

        1. GitMeMyShootinIrons

          Re: what happened to the tactical nukes?

          "A new shiny F35 + Trident carefully joined together with copious amounts of BAE gaffer tape should be one hell of a replacement......"

          Well, that's one way to get the F35B off the deck vertically.

  6. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    So, are we talking about

    - the control and guidance systems in the missile

    - the guidance systems in the MIRVs

    - the arming system (supposing there is a separate system for that)

    - the control systems in the sub

    - all of the above

    - neither

    or what?

    I suppose this is not about switching from Google maps to HERE - but what is it actually about?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      there is no money for maintaining / upgrading them. If you want some you'll have to dress it up as being something cyber related

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've had a tour of HMS Vengence when a mate of mine was a submariner. I was startled at how closely some of the control stations were modelled on Homer Simpson's desk or maybe vice versa.

    No idea how he could work in it for 3 months at a time and he said it was much bigger and more comfortable than the 'hunter/killer S' boats.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    all Royal Navy vessels currently run a hardened, customised version of Windows XP

    Translation... we dont connect them to the internet and install mcafee

    it is very unlikely any non-state actor would have the capability to infect the submarines' systems.

    Translation... we dont just let anyone rock up and plug in usb devices that quack things

  9. Sir Sham Cad

    BAE Systems will carry out the upgrade

    Of course they will. I suspect this is why the 5 year "cyber security" spend has nearly doubled. "That's what BAE told us it would cost"

    Windows for Warships terrifies me to be honest. Sure it's a military-grade hardened OS but it's still XP technology under the hood with all the issues that go with it.

    1. Nuno trancoso

      Re: BAE Systems will carry out the upgrade

      Like for example? Or you mean the usual problems triggered by idiots that install every piece of junk they come across? Stripped down to basics XP's with a non-changing payload of apps/drivers are quite rock solid.

      1. Sir Sham Cad

        Re: BAE Systems will carry out the upgrade

        Like for example any of this lot:

        https://www.cvedetails.com/vulnerability-list/vendor_id-26/product_id-739/cvssscoremin-5/cvssscoremax-5.99/Microsoft-Windows-Xp.html

        Don't get me wrong, XP was streets ahead of previous Windows version for stability at the time but that time was a long, long time ago. If nothing else it doesn't support UAP so elevated priviledges is a potential worry.

        1. dajames Silver badge

          Re: BAE Systems will carry out the upgrade

          Don't get me wrong, XP was streets ahead of previous Windows version for stability at the time...

          If your previous version was Windows ME I can see how you might think that, but surely most El Reg readers will have moved to XP from WIn2k which was also very solid and reliable (for a Microsoft OS, that is).

          If nothing else it doesn't support UAP so elevated priviledges (sic) is a potential worry.

          I assume you mean UAC, rather than UAP, as you talk of privilege elevation.

          I think you have that the wrong way around. UAC is a system introduced by Microsoft to reduce system security, albeit in a somewhat controlled way, so that people who aren't used to working with "normal user" accounts don't have to remember to "Run as Administrator" (or to log into an Administrator account in the first place) when they want to do something that requires administrator privileges.

          It's perfectly possible to work with normal user accounts without UAC, and to do so without any "potential worry" of the system "helpfully" elevating privileges when you least want it to.

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: BAE Systems will carry out the upgrade

      'Windows for Warships terrifies me to be honest. Sure it's a military-grade hardened OS but it's still XP technology under the hood with all the issues that go with it.'

      I think there's some confusion about Window for Warships, it's not running the actual search and destroy command system type activities of the ships, that's left to a real time OS. It's more the mundane admin type stuff and holding electronic publications that you'd expect in a corporate IT system.

      1. Adam 52 Silver badge

        Re: BAE Systems will carry out the upgrade

        If that's correct would you mind fixing the wikipedia entry please.

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine_Command_System

  10. cd / && rm -rf *
    Mushroom

    Enter this into your browser...

    tacnuke://lat=47°38'51.1"N&long=122°08'21.4"W&yield=50MT&target="Microsoft HQ"

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Enter this into your browser...

      I did, and now there's a strange humming noise.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hardened, customized Windows XP

    So basically they added a firewall and set the background image to the Royal Navy logo.

    1. Ralph B

      Re: Hardened, customized Windows XP

      Or maybe this background image ... ?

  12. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Air gapped ?

    Obviously tricky to operate a nuclear submarine without a permanent internet connection - how else are the crew going to be able to tweet about where they are and what they are doing ?

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Air gapped ?

      I would have thought water gapped would be a better term.

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Air gapped ?

        If there's a gap between the submarine and the water, then something has gone very wrong I would have said...

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Air gapped ?

          If there's a gap between the submarine and the water, then something has gone very wrong I would have said...

          If the Navy can have flying submarines then why can't we have flying cars?

        2. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

          Re: Air gapped ?

          "If there's a gap between the submarine and the water"

          There actually is a gap, few micrometers of air attached to the hull plating due to cavitation as the sub moves through the water. It also keeps various sea-life from attaching itself to the big tube of wasted money.

          Keeping an arsenal of nuclear weapons makes about as much sense as boarding a plane with a suicide vest that you'll detonate to prevent a terrorist from using their vest to blow up the plane. No matter who uses theirs first, everyone is dead and nothing was solved.

    2. PhillW

      Re: Air gapped ?

      And a bloody long network cable!

  13. AbelSoul

    Re: the remote shores of Loch Long

    ~40 miles from the biggest city in the country isn't particularly remote.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: the remote shores of Loch Long

      40 miles from Glasgow isn't close enough in the event of an accident more like...

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: the remote shores of Loch Long

      '~40 miles from the biggest city in the country isn't particularly remote.'

      Try getting there from Glasgow, it takes forever and that's coming from someone who grew up in Cornwall, no stranger to the 10 mile drive that can take hours.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Calm down, people!

    It's because of the left padding JavaScript module (see: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/03/23/npm_left_pad_chaos/ )

  15. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    The View from Away Out There

    The launch of the missiles is entirely dependent upon the submarines rather than the missiles, and despite jibes about Windows for Warships – all Royal Navy vessels currently run a hardened, customised version of Windows XP – it is very unlikely any non-state actor would have the capability to infect the submarines' systems.

    I disagree, and would suggest and caution that future action compromising and overriding security of any installed and upgraded precautions and failsafeguards, is ever more likely to exacerbate an escalating problem with practically zero prior warning of there being a catastrophic problem/systemic vulnerability zeroday exploited.

    And the crux of the matter is that the launch of missiles is entirely dependent upon submariners, and they are always vulnerable to the stealthy mind-bending/brainwashing capabilities of both smarter state and super experienced non-state actors.

    Guarding against cyber attacks is akin to attacking ghosts and phantoms ….. the problem for solutions lies deep within and not outside of siloed systems. Although it could be admitted in the particular and peculiar nuclear weaponry case, that explosive munitions instructions for systems failures and destructions are provided on the outside and supplied via the darker web sides of cyberspace, which one has to accept is a virtual place and practically untouchable and intangible, and that can make it certainly almighty in the right hands, hearts and minds, and in the wrong hands, hearts and minds, one hell of a profitable loss making playground.

    That’s just the way IT is these days. PEBKAC Rules ‽ . And Words Create, Command and Control and Collapse Worlds.

    1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      Re: The View from Away Out There

      I never understood the concept of letting the submariners have the keys to the missiles. I get that they'd want to be able to launch if someone wiped out London / Moscow / Washington DC, etc., but trusting people that you keep in psychologically torturous conditions to be able to end the world seems like a pretty terrible idea...

      The life of a submariner is living for 3 months with no sunlight, no privacy, no showers, no laundry, little to no contact with anyone outside of the ships, and having to share a bed with two other people (Not at the same time, everyone shares the bed in shifts). On top of that, their sole responsibility is to ensure that if their government asks, they could wipe out the whole of humanity...

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: The View from Away Out There

      "And the crux of the matter is that the launch of missiles is entirely dependent upon submariners"

      Assuming the ship lets them (See: On The Beach, or The Last Ship)

      One would hope that if they work out that Radio4 is off the air due to nuclear war that it's all been over for days, London doesn't exist anymore and lobbing more missiles is pointless (for all we know that's what the contents of the Prime Minister's orders in the special onboard safe actually say)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The View from Away Out There

        Well to be perfectly honest at the stage of a nuclear war starting then nuclear weapons do become more of a liability than an asset. The value of a nuclear stockpile basically comes from another country saying "this isin't worth it" when doing things that might make somebody pull the trigger.

        The fact that most countries with nuclear stockpiles deliberately target a portion of them on the leaders for the other countries doesn't hurt at all, since they know that both they and their families will immediately vanish under a mushroom cloud if things go badly. This is somewhat unlike a hundred years ago where if politicians pushed another country into fighting then they and their families would be fine, and it'd be the plebs who died in the fighting.

        1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

          Re: The View from Away Out There

          That's the thing about nuclear weapons - there is no place safe to 'weather the storm' or 'ride it out'. Even someone like Stalin understood this.

          Upside: no direct confrontation, in other words hot war between the big power blocks.

          Downside: proxy wars all over the place.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can someone explain the physics on this? How does a rocket launch from under the sea to fly through the air?

    Would the water not put out the rocket? How much lift can you get from a propeller? As these rockets have been around for decades how exactly are they guided?

    1. cosymart
      Mushroom

      Photos or it Didn't Happen :-)

      Have a look at some videos :-)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uljVI4m5e3c

      The icon seemed somehow appropriate :-)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How does a rocket launch from under the sea to fly through the air? The rocket contains its own oxidizer and doesn't have a wick/fuse hanging down.

      How does a rocket launch from under the sea to fly through the air? via newton's 3rd law, lots of gas pushing downwards thrust rocket upwards the water or air differ only in drag.

      How much lift can you get from a propeller? propellers are normally not used for lift but rather to propel the submarine in this case forwards.

      As these rockets have been around for decades how exactly are they guided? below cut from wiki page

      The missile attains a temporary low-altitude orbit only a few minutes after launch. The Guidance System for the missile was developed by the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory and is maintained by a joint Draper/General Dynamics Mission Systems facility. It is an Inertial Guidance System with an additional Star-Sighting system (this combination is known as astro-inertial guidance), which is used to correct small position and velocity errors that result from launch condition uncertainties due to errors in the submarine navigation system and errors that may have accumulated in the guidance system during the flight due to imperfect instrument calibration. GPS has been used on some test flights but is assumed not to be available for a real mission. The fire control system was designed and continues to be maintained by General Dynamics Mission System

      The GPS reference is also likely to be part of the changes since the advent of GPS spoofing

    3. annodomini2
      Boffin

      They're launched out of the tube and subsequently the water by compressed air, once clear of the water the rocket motor ignites

    4. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "How does a rocket launch from under the sea to fly through the air?"

      As it turns out, quite well.

      The funny part is that the initial underwater ignition experiments were subscale ones for Sea Dragon, not for ballistic launchers.

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