The cyber attack that has been launched today on the NHS, locking its systems with a ransom demand, shows just why nuclear weapons are now useless. No one knows what malicious code may be lurking in all of the various computer systems that control nuclear missiles, Trident submarines, and other weapons systems. Its a case of the age old adage that countries always prepare to fight the next wars with the outdated weapons of the last war.
If its possible to hack into large national and vital computer systems such as that of the NHS, then its clearly possible to hack into all of those defence and offensive systems. We saw recently, although the government tried to prevent its disclosure, that a Trident submarine missile that was being tested, headed off in 180 degrees the wrong direction. That was probably just an example of a faulty missile, but when a similar thing happened to a North Korean ICBM recently, the US were quick to let it be known that its failure was due to US intervention.
Such cyber attacks are not new. The US together with Israel is believed to have been behind the development of the Stuxnet virus, and to have hacked Iran's nuclear power industry, for example.
The attack on the NHS is probably the work of criminal gangs, or possible even of just individuals, but if so that highlights the problem, because if individuals or criminal gangs can have that effect, imagine the extent to which state backed agencies can have in hacking the computer systems of other states. Why on earth would you bother developing nuclear weapons of your own, when all you have to do is wait for your opponent to launch their own nuclear weapons, and then activate the malicious code that you have had sitting covertly in their systems for years, and tell it to direct those nukes back on to your enemy?
If anything, the possession of nuclear weapons today is a liability rather than a safeguard, because an enemy state with advanced cyber warfare skills could turn your nukes into timebombs waiting to explode whenever your opponent chooses to launch an attack. But, that is typical of the way Britain in particular has always lived in the past, and tried to do things on the cheap.
One of the NHS IT spokespeople on BBC News this afternoon, said that everyone knows that over the last few years under the Tories and Liberals the NHS was starved of the funds it needed, and that had led to resources for things like upgrading the computer systems not being made available. Many hospitals, he said, were still using outdated versions of Windows, such as XP, and that meant that providing security was made difficult.
Its rather like the government spending tens of billions of pounds on the 20th century technology of HS2, whilst Britain's broadband infrastructure is pathetically inadequate compared to countries like Singapore. The government's ambition for high speed broadband goes no further than providing everyone with 10 mbps. Even its ambitions for superfast are set no higher than 100 mbps. Yet, Singapore has more or less 100% coverage of broadband for its citizens, providing 1 gbps already!
Instead of wasting money on these outdated technologies like HS2 or nuclear weapons, the government should be putting far more resources into developing 21st century technologies based on truly superfast broadband, as well as undertaking the necessary investment in cyber security to provide real defence against attack. That should include cyber defence systems against nuclear attack, ensuring that any hostile power that sends nuclear weapons our way, sees them heading back in their direction, or exploding in their silos.