Britain’s latest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, could be vulnerable to cyber-attacks in future as several of its systems are running the Windows XP operating system.
The Defence Secretary as well as senior Navy officers are aware of Russia’s interest in the aircraft carrier and fully expect the latter to spy on it.
Britain’s latest 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, cost £3.5bn to build but it seems that it could be as vulnerable to hackers as hundreds of NHS computers running the Windows XP operating system.
While the Royal Navy hasn’t denied it, officers aboard HMS Elizabeth have said that there is a team of cyber specialists on the ship who will be on the look out for cyber-attacks in future.
“The ship is well designed and there has been a very, very stringent procurement train that has ensured we are less susceptible to cyber than most. With regards to someone wanting to jam my radio frequencies, we will have an escort and destroyers around us that will ward off people who try and impact our output. That’s normal routine business at sea,” said Mark Deller, Commander Air on the carrier flagship to The Guardian.
“We are a very sanitised procurement train. I would say compared to the NHS buying computers off the shelf, I would think we are probably better than that. If you think more Nasa and less NHS you are probably in the right place. If the Chinese want to flood the market with a particular widget and they put £30m into it, one will eventually get through to the defence procurement chain. We have got people looking at stuff like this all the time.
“When you buy a ship, you don’t buy it today, you bought it 20 years ago. So what we put on the shelf and in the spec is probably what was good then. The reality is, we are always designed with spare capacity, so we will always have the ability to modify and upgrade. So whatever you see in the pictures, I think you will probably find we will be upgrading to whatever we want to have in due course. It might have already happened but I can’t tell you,” he added.
The news comes not long after experts warned that the UK’s fleet of four Vanguard-class nuclear submarines could be vulnerable to cyber-attacks via malware injection during manufacturing, mid-life refurbishment or software updates and data transmission. They also warned that hackers could use weaponised underwater drones to conduct close proximity kinetic and cyber-attacks on ballistic missile submarines.
Earlier this month, Microsoft released security patches for as many as 16 vulnerabilities that existed in older versions of Windows, citing potential attacks similar to WannaCry. The software giant has asked users of systems running Windows versions that are older than Windows 8 to install the security patches at the earliest to guard against ‘potential attacks with characteristics similar to WannaCrypt.’
As of now, there is no clarity on whether the Royal Navy will upgrade all systems on Queen Elizabeth to the latest version of the Windows operating system, whether they will install the new patches released by Microsoft or if they will sign up to Microsoft’s custom support programme which, in some cases, costs up to $1,000 a year.