Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Labour mustn't sign up to stagnation (Guardian)

We can steer Britain off the road to ruin – but emulating Tory austerity isn't the right way to do it, says Peter Hain.

2.  Don’t attack Britain’s oldies – they keep the economy going (Daily Telegraph)

The growing army of working over-65s dispels the idea that the elderly burden the young, says Fraser Nelson.

3. With this mess Labour should be miles ahead (Times)

The Chancellor should be toast – but the opposition would not be credible even if it repented of its spending sins, writes Philip Collins.

4. Parliament must support a free press (Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron's Royal Charter proposal is the best option for eradicating the kind of newspaper malpractice highlighted by the Leveson inquiry, argues a Telegraph editorial.

5. Leveson vote: some way from resolution (Guardian)

Politicians on all sides should look again to see if there isn't common ground, argues a Guardian editorial.

6. After hubris in Iraq, hesitation in Syria (Financial Times)

The tough lessons from an invasion a decade ago do not apply today, writes Philip Stephens.

7. A tawdry alliance and the threat to a free press (Daily Mail)

The most unedifying aspect of this sorry saga is the way the Labour Party has been hijacked by Hacked Off, says a Daily Mail editorial.

8. Bedroom tax: why you should march against this heartless, pointless 'reform' (Guardian)

Mass evictions of the most vulnerable are no way to tackle the housing benefit bill, and we must do all we can to stop them, writes Polly Toynbee.

9. As Obama flies in, this feels like a Berlin Wall moment for Israel (Independent)

There is now a majority here in favour of a two-state solution, writes Mary Dejevsky.

10. The British Budget is not as great as it was (Financial Times)

The chancellor’s showpiece had its heyday in the 1960s and has never regained its economic eminence, writes Samuel Brittan.

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Can Trident be hacked?

A former defence secretary has warned that Trident is vulnerable to cyber attacks. Is it?

What if, in the event of a destructive nuclear war, the prime minister goes to press the red button and it just doesn't work? 

This was the question raised by Des Browne, a former defence secretary, in an interview witht the Guardian this week. His argument, based on a report from the defence science board of the US Department of Defense, is that the UK's Trident nuclear weapons could be vulnerable to cyberattacks, and therefore rendered useless if hacked. 

Browne called for an "end-to-end" assessment of the system's cybersecurity: 

 The government ... have an obligation to assure parliament that all of the systems of the nuclear deterrent have been assessed end-to-end against cyber attacks to understand possible weak spots and that those weak spots are protected against a high-tier cyber threat. If they are unable to do that then there is no guarantee that we will have a reliable deterrent or the prime minister will be able to use this system when he needs to reach for it.

Is he right? Should we really be worried about Trident's potential cyber weaknesses?

Tangled webs 

The first, crucial thing to note is that Trident is not connected to the "internet" we use every day. Sure, it's connected to the main Ministry of Defence network, but this operates totally independently of the network that you visit Facebook through. In cyber-security terms, this means the network is "air-gapped" - it's isolated from other systems that could be less secure. 

In our minds, Trident is old and needs replacing (the submarines began patrolling in the 1990s), but any strike would be ordered and co-ordinated from Northwood, a military bunker 100m underground which would use the same modern networks as the rest of the MoD. Trident is basically as secure as the rest of the MoD. 

What the MoD said

I asked the Ministry of Defence for a statement on Trident's security, and while it obviously can't offer much information about how it all actually works, a spokesperson confirmed that the system is air-gapped and added: 

We wouldn't comment on the detail of our security arrangements for the nuclear deterrent but we can and do safeguard it from all threats including cyber.

What security experts said

Security experts agree that an air-gapped system tends to be more secure than one connected to the internet. Sean Sullivan, a security adviser at F-secure, told Infosecurity magazine that while some hackers have been able to "jump" air-gaps using code, this would cause "interference" at most and a major attack of this kind is still "a long way off". 

Franklin Miller, a former White House defence policy offer, told the Guardian that the original report cited by Browne was actually formulated in response to suggestions that some US defence networks should be connected to the internet. In that case, it actually represents an argument in favour of the type of air-gapped system used by the MoD. 

So... can it be hacked?

The answer is really that any system could be hacked, but a specialised, independent defence network is very, very unlikely to be. If a successful hack did happen, it would likely affect all aspects of defence, not just Trident. That doesn't mean that every effort shouldn't be made to make sure the MoD is using the most secure system possible, but it also means that scaremongering in the context of other, unrelated cybersecurity scares is a little unjustified. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.