Mutual Authentication in Real Life–Launching a Nuclear Missile…

A few years ago, I wanted to run an exercise with our incident response team in Switzerland. A customer, the government and me came together to develop the goals and the scenario. One of the key question we tried to answer together with the university, which we wanted to use as observers was, whether we would be able to ramp up the communication channels and keep them up even if bad things happen (like the building has to be evacuated). By ramping up the channels, I was not necessarily interested in the technical side but in the people side. Especially as the key leaders of the incident teams were the ones running the exercise. So, you had the people who knew each other for years sitting there and just listening in.

If you think about it: Even if you know that you are on call for an incident response team, if you get a call from national intelligence telling you that something bad happens, how can you know that they are genuine? Just because they know the incident number? An interesting question we realized that we did not address it if the key people were not present. Now this is for a security-related IT incident.

Reading this article An Unsung Hero of the Nuclear Age scared me as it seems that this problem was not even solved launching nuclear missile. It asks a fundamental question:

How can any missile crewman know that an order to twist his launch key in its slot and send a thermonuclear missile rocketing out of its silo—a nuke capable of killing millions of civilians—is lawful, legitimate, and comes from a sane president?

So, even though the article is fairly long it is worth reading


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