Cyber Shadows over Nuclear Peace: Understanding and Mitigating Digital Threats to Global Security

Published date01 June 2024
AuthorYujin J. Jung
Date01 June 2024
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Research Article
Cyber Shadows over
Nuclear Peace:
Understanding and
Mitigating Digital
Threats to
Global Security
Yujin J. Jung1
This article examines the intersection of cyber warfare and nuclear security, em-
phasising the significance of addressing the emerging threats to nuclear facilities
from cyberattacks. The article highlights a gap in the international security archi-
tecture: the absence of an international regime for nuclear cybersecurity. This
deficiency challenges the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, threatening global
peace and stability by undermining the treaty’s objectives and increasing the risk
of nuclear proliferation and misuse. The research underscores the need for an
international regime that integrates cybersecurity with nuclear security. It calls
for the involvement of middle powers in international negotiations and consen-
sus-building, alongside exploring innovative diplomatic strategies and robust legal
frameworks. The article seeks to contribute to the discourse on international
security, advocating for a coordinated global response to safeguard against the
catastrophic consequences of digital threats in the nuclear domain.
Cybersecurity, nuclear security, non-proliferation, international security,
international cooperation
In the dynamic and interconnected world of international security, the fusion of
cyber warfare and nuclear security stands as a pivotal issue. The nature of cyber
threats—their stealth, speed and potential for massive disruption—necessitates
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
11(2) 233–253, 2024
© The Author(s) 2024
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/23477970241250102
1 University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, United States
Corresponding author:
Yujin J. Jung, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211-1300, United States.
234 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 11(2)
a fundamental rethinking of security strategies and policies at nuclear facilities,
shifting towards a more comprehensive approach that encompasses both physical
and cyber domains.
In the last decade, the discovery of the Stuxnet worm virus, particularly in five
Iranian nuclear facilities, has significantly heightened concerns about the vulner-
ability of nuclear infrastructure to cyber threats (Chen & Abu-Nimeh, 2011).
Subsequently, a series of mysterious incidents at Iran’s nuclear sites, including an
explosion at the Natanz facility in July 2020, which the Iranian government
labelled as external sabotage, and a power outage in 2021, described as nuclear
terrorism, further underscored these concerns. Reports suggested that these inci-
dents, particularly the cyberattack on the Natanz facility, were linked to Israeli
intelligence agency Mossad (Motamedi, 2021).
These developments highlight the growing sophistication and frequency of
cyberattacks targeting nuclear facilities. In a notable example, the UK’s Sellafield,
one of its most sensitive nuclear sites, was hacked by a group linked to Russia and
China, compromising critical operations such as the movement of radioactive
waste and leak monitoring (Issac & Lawson, 2023). This incident exemplifies the
emerging threat posed by state-sponsored cyberattacks to nuclear facilities glob-
ally, heightening the need for enhanced security measures.
This article delves into the intricate relationship between the proliferation of
cyber weapons and the safeguarding of nuclear facilities, a topic of growing
importance in our increasingly digitalised global landscape. The advent of cyber
weapons has revolutionised statecraft, offering a strategic avenue for states, par-
ticularly those with constrained traditional military capacities, to engage in con-
flicts that are low in intensity yet potentially high in impact.
North Korea’s strategic pivot towards cyber warfare, for instance, preferring it
as a less risky but equally potent form of aggression compared to conventional
military engagement, exemplifies this shift.
The escalating dependency on digital technology within nuclear facilities has inad-
vertently amplified their susceptibility to cyber threats. This vulnerability is further
compounded by the evolving sophistication of cyber weapons, which threatens not
only the security of these critical installations but also the broader framework of global
peace and stability. Nuclear facilities, integral to national security and with the poten-
tial to cause catastrophic damage if compromised, emerge as prime targets for cyber-
attacks, elevating the strategic calculus involved in their protection.
This article also underscores the significant disparities in cybersecurity prepar-
edness among nations, revealing a concerning vulnerability in nuclear facilities,
especially those constructed prior to the recognition of cyber threats. This vulner-
ability, coupled with the inherent challenges in attributing cyberattacks, presents
a complex security dilemma, rendering these installations susceptible to a diverse
array of actors, including nation-states, non-state entities and individual hackers.
Moreover, the research delves into the far-reaching implications of these
emerging threats on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime. Cyber threats to
nuclear facilities pose multifaceted challenges that could undermine the funda-
mental goals of the NPT, from the security of nuclear materials to the integrity of
the verification process, and the peaceful utilisation of nuclear energy.

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