Dec 01 2014

National Laboratory Scientist Develops Uncrackable Code for Nuclear Weapons

The code-generating process is deemed so secure that even the most sophisticated intelligence agencies won’t be able to hack it.

A scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has been honored for developing what is being heralded as a hack-proof method for securing the nation’s nuclear stockpile.

Engineer Mark Hart says his technique is deemed so secure that even the world’s most sophisticated intelligence agencies won’t be able to crack the process — now or ever. His proposal focuses on Intrinsic Use Control (UIC), “a concept that is capable of providing improved quantifiable safety and use control within a nuclear weapon,” according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Enhanced Surety Program has recognized Hart’s work and recently honored him with the 2015 Surety Transformation Initiative Award. Hart’s proposal was selected from a pool of seven submitted by nuclear-weapons design labs that also included Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories. His proposal will receive $2 million in funding over three years.

Hart, who works in Lawrence Livermore’s Defense Technologies Division, describes his innovative approach in a short video.

In the video, Hart says Intrinsic Use Control protects the weapon by ensuring that its components only will function when permitted by the National Command Authority, which collectively describes the president and secretary of Defense. Under Hart’s proposed system, not even the people who designed and built the weapon components would be able to get them to function.

Here’s how it works: Nuclear weapon components are given unique identification numbers. Instead of using computer algorithms to generate those numbers, the fluctuating radiation fields from the nuclear weapons are used to generate secure, random numbers that are known only to the weapon. If a component is removed or replaced, the system would deem the component unrecognizable and the other protective components would become unusable.

“Using the random process of nuclear radioactive decay is the gold standard of random number generators,” Hart says. “You’d have a better chance of winning both Mega Millions and Powerball on the same day than getting control of IUC-protected components.”

The STI award was created to spur development of technologies and innovations that have the potential to drastically transform the government’s unmet nuclear weapon surety needs.

“STI is intended not to maintain or polish ‘your grandfather’s Oldsmobile,’ but to go beyond it: to invent devices and technologies that serve the 21st century nuclear security needs of the American people better than they are served by existing Cold War legacy technologies,” said Robert Sherman, enhanced surety federal program manager in NNSA’s Technology Maturation Division.

Julie Russell and Bob Sickles/LLNL

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT