Nuclear Weapons, Cyber Warfare, and Cyber Security: Ethical and Anticipated Ethical Issues


  • Richard Wilson Towson University
  • Alexia Fitz Towson University



     In this paper, we discuss the interrelationship of nuclear weapons, cyber warfare, and cyber security. Some of the most significant cyber threats to nuclear stability are now due to the intersection of technologies related to nuclear weapons and cyber technology. Cyber warfare can now be used to engage in and influence international events through cyber attacks upon nuclear systems and weapons. In the current war between Russia and Ukraine there has been the threat of the use of nuclear weapons. Since cyber warfare has already been employed in the Russia/Ukraine conflict it is possible that cyber attacks could be employed to trigger a nuclear event. To prevent cyber warfare from leading to nuclear warfare there needs to be a focus on cyber security in order to protect nuclear systems and nuclear arsenals but also to mitigate cyber attacks that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.


     One of the main risks to nuclear weapons systems is sabotage. It is easy to imagine cyber attackers placing incorrect information into systems and even taking control of nuclear weapons. Various parts of nuclear weapons systems are capable of being targeted.  Command and control systems, alert systems, launch systems, and target-positioning systems could all become targets. Scenarios in which alert systems are hacked and show a nuclear attack by adversaries, may lead to an accidental nuclear conflict. It is also conceivable that hackers could manipulate the coordinates of (pre-programmed) targets of nuclear missiles, or to spoof GPS-like systems that some missiles use to calculate their positions their targets. At the present time there is no evidence that any state or non-state actor is able to successfully perform such manipulations but considering the exponential rate of developments in the cyber arena, in the near future, such attacks might be possible. In the worst-case scenarios, these possibilities could lead to the inadvertent use of nuclear weapons, and/or use against unintended targets. In less dramatic scenarios, the perceived vulnerabilities of the nuclear weapons systems may affect nuclear stability. This could lead to a decrease in the deterrent value of nuclear weapons. This could come about because potential adversaries may think they have options to manipulate these weapons when being used. It is difficult to forecast the effects of decreasing nuclear deterrence.

    This analysis will define a stakeholder framework for identifying the ethical and anticipated ethical issues with cyber warfare and nuclear warfare and relate these issues to the importance of cyber security. Ethics should be at the center of the discussion of the use of nuclear weapons, nuclear warfare and cyber warfare. Moral concerns should be at the center of the discussion of nuclear warfare. The need for this moral concern is due to the threat to vulnerable populations by nuclear systems and nuclear weapons, as well as the threat posed  to democratic institutions by the use of nuclear weapons.