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The U.S. is still using floppy disks to run its nuclear program

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(CNN) — Want to launch a nuclear missile? You’ll need a floppy disk.

That’s according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that the Pentagon was still using 1970s-era computing systems that require “eight-inch floppy disks.”

Such disks were already becoming obsolete by the end of that decade, being edged out by smaller, non-floppy 3.5 to 5.25-inch disks, before being almost completely replaced by the CD in the late 90s.

Except in Washington that is. The GAO report says that U.S. government departments spend upwards of $60 billion a year on operating and maintaining out-of-date technologies.

That’s three times the investment on modern IT systems.

Obsolete

The report says the Pentagon is planning to replace its floppy systems — which currently coordinate intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), nuclear bombers and tanker support aircraft — by the end of 2017.

Other departments were also put on notice to update their systems. The U.S. Treasury for example, still depends on assembly language code “initially used in the 1950s.”

Bringing government departments into the 21st century has proven difficult across the board.

Megan Smith, the current U.S. Chief Technology Officer, told the New York Times in 2015 of the “culture shock” experienced by the tech-savvy Obama campaign when they took control of a White House still dependent on floppy disks and Blackberrys.

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2 comments

  • Dan M.

    This is actually a good thing. Very few modern hackers have the knowledge or methods to attack technology this obsolete. I graduated from college in the early 90’s and most places weren’t even teaching assembler anymore. It is probably more secure than if it had been upgraded all these years. As long as they keep the ability to continuously create new floppy backups every year or so, and have someone to manufacture the drives, there is no reason why this should be problematic. Yes, it is relatively slow, but from a security standpoint it is better off this way.