The government must assure Parliament the £31bn Trident system is protected from cyber-attackers, according to former defence secretary Lord Browne
Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system may be useless if the government cannot provide proof that it is protected from Internet-based attacks, former defence secretary Des Browne has warned.
The system must be assessed for cyber “weak spots” and those points protected from attack, said Lord Browne, defence secretary from 2006 to 2008.
“If they are unable to do that then there is no guarantee that we will have a reliable deterrent or the prime minister will be able to use this system when he needs to reach for it,” he said in a statement relased to the press.
Browne’s comments come as Parliament prepares to debate the future of Trident, whose cost has risen to £31bn, according to the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), released on Monday.
He highlighted a 2013 report by the US Department of Defence that warned the US and its allies “cannot be confident” that their defence systems could survive an “attack from a sophisticated and well-resourced opponent utilising cyber-capabilities in combination with all of their military and intelligence capabilities”.
The report questioned whether the US’ nuclear capabilities would be “survivable against the full-spectrum” cyber attacks by countries such as Russia and China.
Internet technologies were, ironically, developed by the US government in the 1960s in part as a way of making the country’s defence systems more robust.
Chancellor George Osborne announced at GCHQ last week that the government plans to allocate more than £3.2bn to cybersecurity over the next five years, but Browne, now vice-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative disarmament campaign group, said this was “nowhere near” enough if it includes ensuring cybersecurity for nuclear weapons command systems.
“This is the environment to which Moore’s law applies,” he said. “Consequently, we can expect cyber-capacity to have doubled and doubled again since the (2013) report was published and to continue to increase.”
Labour is currently divided on the issue of Trident, with its official position still in support of the programme but leader Jeremy Corbyn opposed. The party has asked members to abstain from a non-binding vote on Trident’s future in the House of Commons on Tuesday, called by the SNP, but a number of MPs are thought to be planning to use the vote to show their support for the nuclear programme.
Ken Livingstone, who co-convened Labour’s current defence review, said the questions around cyber-security were another mark in favour of abandoning Trident.
“Spending £20bn on something is bad enough but spending £20bn on something that won’t be able to work is a bit of a problem,” he told the Guardian.
The Ministry of Defence said Trident would be safeguarded from “any cyber threat”.
“We are investing more than ever before on the UK’s defensive and offensive cyber capabilities to protect our national interests,” the MoD stated. “Last week the Chancellor outlined a plan for £1.9bn in cyber investment, including a £165m Defence and Cyber Innovation Fund, to support innovative procurement across both defence and cyber security.”
Osborne said government investment to protect the UK from cyber attack would be nearly doubled to £1.9bn over the next five years.
Government spending allocated to cybersecurity over that period, including core cybersecurity capabilities, protecting UK networks and ensuring safe and secure online services, amounts to more than £3.2 billion, Osborne said.
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