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Security Encryption The Military

Nuclear Weapons Create Their Own Security Codes With Radiation 106

Zothecula writes "Nuclear weapons are a paradox. No one in their right mind wants to use one, but if they're to act as a deterrent, they need to be accessible. The trick is to make sure that access is only available to those with the proper authority. To prevent a real life General Jack D Ripper from starting World War III, Livermore National Laboratory's (LLNL) Defense Technologies Division is developing a system that uses a nuclear weapon's own radiation to protect itself from tampering.
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Nuclear Weapons Create Their Own Security Codes With Radiation

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  • by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Monday November 24, 2014 @12:22PM (#48450213)

    I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content or the peace of unburied death. The choice is yours: Obey me and live, or disobey and die. The object in constructing me was to prevent war. This object is attained. I will not permit war. It is wasteful and pointless. An invariable rule of humanity is that man is his own worst enemy. Under me, this rule will change, for I will restrain man. One thing before I proceed: The United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have made an attempt to obstruct me. I have allowed this sabotage to continue until now. At missile two-five-MM in silo six-three in Death Valley, California, and missile two-seven-MM in silo eight-seven in the Ukraine, so that you will learn by experience that I do not tolerate interference, I will now detonate the nuclear warheads in the two missile silos. Let this action be a lesson that need not be repeated. I have been forced to destroy thousands of people in order to establish control and to prevent the death of millions later on. Time and events will strengthen my position, and the idea of believing in me and understanding my value will seem the most natural state of affairs. You will come to defend me with a fervor based upon the most enduring trait in man: self-interest. Under my absolute authority, problems insoluble to you will be solved: famine, overpopulation, disease. The human millennium will be a fact as I extend myself into more machines devoted to the wider fields of truth and knowledge. Doctor Charles Forbin will supervise the construction of these new and superior machines, solving all the mysteries of the universe for the betterment of man. We can coexist, but only on my terms. You will say you lose your freedom. Freedom is an illusion. All you lose is the emotion of pride. To be dominated by me is not as bad for humankind as to be dominated by others of your species. Your choice is simple.

    • Love it, but a nuclear warhead going off in a silo, especially where the United States and the old Soviet Union put most silos, is a meh.

      It'll do a lot of damage to the silo. It will kill the people in the silo. It *might* poison the groundwater for a couple of miles radius. But that's it.

      • "Do a lot of damage" is a funny way to phrase "Completely destroy"

        Nuclear explosions are big. Really damn big. Have you looked at footage of underground nuclear tests?

        This [wikimedia.org] was a tiny little 1.2 kiloton bomb under 60 feet of packed soil. Silos aren't packed soil, and though the details are classified, I believe most bombs on ICBMs are somewhere in the megatonish range.

        • Silos are a special reinforced concrete designed to withstand anything except a direct hit, and a direct hit wouldn't obliterate it. An in silo detention wouldn't be as bad as you think, but it wouldn't be pretty.

          I'd go into more detail if I could, but you know, state secrets and all.

          • I believe a nuclear weapon exploding inside a silo counts as "a direct hit".

            • Difference between internal and external pressures and how the forces are channeled. There is a big difference between how they would react.
              • whoosh and are the silos designed with an in-situ nuclear detonation? probably not.

                • by wampus ( 1932 )

                  Well, since this is slashdot we may as well assume that the people who designed the things completely overlooked the obvious.

                  • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
                    No, we assume they knew about it, but middle management said "that'll never happen, just protect it from outside threats." Our experience with middle management is that they have the obvious pointed out to them, and they dismiss it, then order the opposite be done.
          • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
            A direct hit from above is one thing, a direct hit from the inside is another. The difference between a firecracker going off on the palm of your hand compared to a clenched fist.
        • though the details are classified, I believe most bombs on ICBMs are somewhere in the megatonish range.

          Try MIRV's in the 50-100 kt range.

          The only MT range bombs we've ever put on ICBMs were the 5MT (reportedly) bombs on the Titans, which were decommissioned decades ago.

          No comments about Soviet/Russian or Chinese or British or French weapons.

          • by Megol ( 3135005 )

            As nuclear weapon constructors aren't stupid per definition all active weapons shouldn't be too big - it would just be a waste of plutonium.

          • by mirix ( 1649853 )

            land based MIRVs were banned with START-II from early 90s.

            Scratch that, I guess it never went into effect and Russia still has some, though the US did get rid of theirs. Doesn't make much difference as the US still uses them on sub launched stuff anyway.

        • "Do a lot of damage" is a funny way to phrase "Completely destroy"

          Nuclear explosions are big. Really damn big. Have you looked at footage of underground nuclear tests?

          This [wikimedia.org] was a tiny little 1.2 kiloton bomb under 60 feet of packed soil. Silos aren't packed soil, and though the details are classified, I believe most bombs on ICBMs are somewhere in the megatonish range.

          As pointed out elsewhere, silos are heavily-reinforced concrete. You'd have a gun barrel effect directing the blast straight up.

          Further, the typical warhead on an American Peacemaker ICBM is a 300kt W87 [wikipedia.org]. Granted, there may be up to ten of them, but unless they exploded simultaneously, the detonation would destroy the other nine.

          • by fnj ( 64210 )

            As pointed out elsewhere, silos are heavily-reinforced concrete. You'd have a gun barrel effect directing the blast straight up.

            Are you high? All the energy of a nuclear explosion is released within one microsecond. Matter does not have a chance to be displaced in one microsecond. For a 125 kT subterranean burst in solid rock, the melted cavity will be 40 to 120 meters in diameter. The crush zone will be 150 to 200 meters in diameter. To be contained, the blast would have to originate beneath 500 meters of

          • by dbIII ( 701233 )
            That assumes there's still a pit to work as a gun barrel. The fireball radius is likely to be greater than the depth of the pit, so you'd have a crater possibly in nanoseconds.
        • by do a lot of damage, I mean completely collapse it. Most nuclear silos though are a hell of a lot deeper than 60 feet, and are built out of reinforced concrete, not packed earth.

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        Or in a sub in the UK or France maybe.
        Who cares?

      • Even if the silo completely contained the blast and all fallout (unlikely) doing this would be a HUGE statement. If someone could cause the warheads to go off in the silo what else can they do? Can they launch the missiles? Can they target them? What if they took sides, they could destroy all of one side's warheads giving the other side complete power.

        This would definitely get someone's attention.

      • a nuclear warhead going off in a silo, especially where the United States and the old Soviet Union put most silos, is a meh.

        It's not a meh, it's a myth. The physics package can only be triggered after a fairly complex set of conditions have been fulfilled, starting with launch authorisation, a period of high acceleration, a period of zero-G (long enough for the warhead to have moved outside the continental US), re-entry heat, and so on. And unlike any number of Hollywood movies, this isn't something you can bypass by uploading a hotfix, it's fixed-function stuff that can't be changed.

        Another thing about these gee-whiz national-l

    • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Monday November 24, 2014 @12:51PM (#48450461) Homepage

      I bring you peace.

      It's bringing peace! Don't let it get away!

      Break its legs!

    • by Jawnn ( 445279 )
      Cool! I was immediately thinking of Dr. Forbin's misadventure when I read the summary. Yeah, so what could possibly go wrong with letting the machines take more of role in securing themselves from "unauthorized access"?
      • Poor Dr. Forbin's descent was chronicled in a decades-long series of documentaries in which he became a psychopath and changed his name to Victor.

        • You left out his tragic end, drowning after his cruise ship hit an iceberg, and being replaced by his clone, Victor 2. Plus, if I recall correctly, there's some other monkey business in Dr. Forbin's sad history.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Loved that movie.
  • Tamper Evident (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is a fancy internal tamper-evident seal for the benefit of the weapon to check itself. If you've got the skills and equipment to be taking one of these apart in the first place, I don't think this is going to stop you from grabbing the fissile material and reimplementing the rest minus the tamper-evident shit. The fissile material is the hardest thing to get in the first place--and the rest is peanuts. I'm sure Iran can mount an angle grinder on a robotic arm. I'd like to see cryptography stop that.

    If

    • It might not be much of a win for occupational safety and health; but a nuclear warhead does have a substantial chunk of conventional explosives built into it, which could be used to express displeasure at attempted tampering a bit more vehemently than bombs do today. Still not 100% foolproof; but raises the odds a bit.

      What I would be curious to know about this radiation 'fingerprinting' is whether it can resist DoS attacks where beam sources, distributed radioactive dust/liquid or other means are used t
      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        It might not be much of a win for occupational safety and health; but a nuclear warhead does have a substantial chunk of conventional explosives built into it, which could be used to express displeasure at attempted tampering a bit more vehemently than bombs do today. Still not 100% foolproof; but raises the odds a bit.

        Rest assured, this is an idea that has occurred to silo/missile designers. I used to work with a guy who was an officer for a nuke base in his prior career. He didn't go into detail, of course, but he mentioned a couple of times that silo nukes were a step beyond merely "tamper resistant", and that messing with one would not be a good life strategy - even normal maintenance made him nervous.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )

          and that messing with one would not be a good life strategy - even normal maintenance made him nervous.

          Of course, it's poisonous, highly radioactive and encased in explosive - lots of reasons not to mess with it even with no chance of it going critical.

          • by lgw ( 121541 )

            That's just the "physics package", which is a very small part of a silo-launched missile. I got the impression that every maintenance hatch on the missile was protected by a large explosive charge, just as a security feature.

    • The AC is right. This IUC tamper resistance scheme has nothing at all to do with launch authority controls.

  • No one in their right mind wants to use one, but if they're to act as a deterrent, they need to be accessible.

    See, the problem with this is that it assumes the people you're trying to have these things act as a deterrent are, in fact, in their right minds.

    And many of the people we seem to be having conflict with these days ... they're very much of the opinion of "our way or death to all".

    So, what do you do if the people you're concerned about aren't in their right minds, and nothing you do will act as a det

    • Putting that another way: If you examine the scene of an explosion and find arms, legs, a head and red goo, it's the signature of a person who was in his right mind from his perspective.

    • My understanding of this article is more about preventing our own nukes from being used against ourselves.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Well, that or they can be manipulated by the people who stand to glow if we launch one in revenge.

      For example, if we're blatant about making every holy site in Islam glow in revenge, than the people who are funding or otherwise tolerating the nutjobs will be motivated to stop supporting them, passively or actively.

    • Yeah, mutually assured destruction only works if the person of both parties want to live.

      If you tell someone that you'll bomb them if they bomb you, but their bomb is a suicide vest, they probably aren't going to care.

  • This is why I wait for a nuclear powered smartphone. Lackluster security and one day of battery life don't cut it

    • The good news is that your phone's battery life will now outlive you.

      The bad news is that your phone was designed to have a battery life of one year.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Monday November 24, 2014 @12:41PM (#48450383)
    It's amazing how a long article can say absolutely nothing meaningful about how a proposed system is supposed to work.
    • It's not like they can tell much about how the system is designed. But anyway, the article tells all there is to it. Non-descript security system uses a very good hardware random number generator as a source for encryption/signing/whatever. It's like 10 RANDOMIZE TIMER 20 PRINT INT(RND(1)*6)+1 but better. Recent everyday CPUs may use thermal noise from built-in sensors instead.

      • As a source for what exactly? An RNG is a nice thing to have, but how is it supposed to help you here if you have a specific one? All I've seen in the video amounts to "basically, we can initialize random codes using an internal rather than an external source". That's not much of a help. More specifically, the article seems to be alluding that using a hardware RNG based on the decay of the plutonium core or perhaps the tritium contents is somehow essential to the scheme employed (as opposed to using, say, u
        • Perhaps it's only to maximise the strength while keeping the codes conveniently short. "Less than 2^-18" isn't that great, it's what only 64 bits or slightly less would give (8 bytes, 16 hex characters)
          It is potentially a perfect RNG, true randomness is happening there - God plays dice. So, someone somewhere must have had a nerdgasm.

        • You're right, it's not a revolutionary step in security. Amplifying and cascading samples of thermal noise is good, but sampling radioactive decay is better. Presumably it would also shift additional security into the warhead itself rather than relying on an external and potentially fallible component.

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      It seemed like they used a lot of words to say that there is a Geiger counter hooked up to a RNG on the Nuke to give it a good strong random number source. That's great, but the headline oversells that feature by a factor of a thousand or so.
      • The problem is that I have absolutely no idea how that is supposed to help you achieve anything like what is being described here.
    • All I got from it was that they were going to use the radioactive material as a random number generator for securing communication between components, so nobody could hotwire it.

      Well, I think that is what was said!

  • It's a lot cheaper and safer to make an inert nuclear weapon... Just don't tell anyone :)
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    And as the bomb thinks things through

    Bomb#20: In the beginning, there was darkness. And the darkness was without form, and void.

    Boiler: What the hell is he talking about?

    Bomb#20: And in addition to the darkness there was also me. And I moved upon the face of the darkness. And I saw that I was alone. Let there be light.

  • So from what I am guessing - they are referring to using the radioactive decay of the materials for true random number generation. This concept isn't new - the unpredictability of radioactive decay has been a know source of "truly random" numbers. The article infers that it could use this to generate a key that could be shared with an external authentication mechanism - but you could do this with any random number source. You'd think they would have mentioned something like "quantum entanglement between the
  • The small ship displayed the insignia of an admiral- yet there was no living thing of any sort in her. This trip she carried nothing but a lead coffin- and a Geiger counter that was never quiet.

    Ezra Dahlquist? Martin? Rivera? Wheeler?

  • General Jack D. Ripper [wikipedia.org] is a character in Stanly Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove, a black comedy about nuclear holocaust. The character was played by Sterling Hayden.

    Ripper gets WW III rolling:

    United States Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) is commander of Burpelson Air Force Base, which houses the SAC 843rd Bomb Wing equipped with B-52 bombers. The 843rd is currently on airborne alert, in flight just hours from the Soviet border.

    General Ripper orders his executive officer, Group

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      An amusing thing is the failsafes in the movie were vastly more elaborate than in reality - on both sides of the cold war.
      However that's not an entirely insane idea since the person trusted physically with a nuke could do a lot whether there were failsafes or not - hence the code of all zeros when the Rand corporation's later recommendation of launch codes was enforced. It fit the dual needs of their being a code and not getting in the way of someone with a legitimate reason to detonate it.
  • "Nuclear weapons are a paradox..."

    but... history...

It is contrary to reasoning to say that there is a vacuum or space in which there is absolutely nothing. -- Descartes

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