The US military is dropping 8-inch floppy disks for SSDs in its nuclear weapons systems

midian182

TechSpot Editor
Staff member

Back in 2016, it was reported that US agencies, including the Pentagon, were still using the ancient systems. “Legacy IT investments across the federal government are becoming increasingly obsolete,” stated a report from the Government Accountability Office. “For instance, [the Department of] Defense is still using 8-inch floppy disks in a legacy system that coordinates the operational functions of the United States’ nuclear forces.”

But in an interview with c4isrnet.com, Lt. Col. Jason Rossi said the Strategic Automated Command and Control System, or SACCS, is moving away from 8-inch floppy drives and to a "highly-secure solid state digital storage solution.”

While using such an antiquated system for something as important as nuclear weapons may seem unusual, its age is what makes it so secure. "You can't hack something that doesn't have an IP address. It's a very unique system — it is old and it is very good," Rossi explained.

The Defense Department said in 2016 that it would “update its data storage solutions, port expansion processors, portable terminals, and desktop terminals by the end of fiscal year 2017,” but we don’t know if those upgrades have taken place.

Three years ago, aging systems were also found in the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, State, and Veterans Affairs. And while not all of the technology was as ancient as eight-inch floppy disks, some of the agencies were found to be running Windows XP.

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gamerk2

TS Evangelist
Before anyone wonders why the US uses old technology, consider this:

Are you willing to pay for it?
 

Vulcanproject

TS Evangelist
Old is often good when you want reliability and security. Old appears crude and simple, but that also means less unknown flaws yet to be discovered.

NASA used ancient computer systems inside the Space Shuttle all the way til retirement. It caused a few supply problems later on in the program but all the minor issues in the hardware had been found, documented and known about for years so it gave the system incredible stability.
 

Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
The other issue that hasen't been discussed is how they "harden" these systems against EMP. It was one of the reasons that NORAD continued to use tube sets in all their systems until the late 90's. Of course there is a chance that we have discovered a means for accomplishing that and are just not letting it out ...... or not.
 
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Capaill

TS Evangelist
The other issue that hasen't been discussed is how they "harden" these systems against EMP. It was one of the reasons that NORAD continued to use tube sets in all their systems until the late 90's. Of course there is a chance that we have discovered a means for accomplishing that and are just not letting it out ...... or not.
I presume the computer is connected only to the launch controls and not to anything on the network or internet. The room would be in a hardened bunker with EM shielding on any cables going in/out. That should be enough to harden it from EMP. I also presume the largest risks are of either blackmailing one of the operators and/or installing a virus that takes control of the PC / SSD. To any spies out there, I suggest dropping a few infected USB drives in the nuclear launch site car park. That usually works.
 

cliffordcooley

TS Redneck
Damn talk about an upgrade! They are potentially trading in a warehouse of floppies for a single external SSD drive. Think of all the space they are saving, even with multiple redundancy backups.
 

PEnnn

TS Addict
Before anyone wonders why the US uses old technology, consider this:

Are you willing to pay for it?
Let me see........are you saying the same people who are paying for the USS Ford aircraft carrier that's costing them 14 billion, is 3 years behind schedule and bigly over budget, have no money left to upgrade floppy drives???
 
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EchoWhiskey

TS Rookie
Good move getting rid of them, old technology
Nowadays there are 3.5" floppy disks available with a hard plastic cover.
Much more durable.
It only will take a while to copy the data from one floppy to the other...
 

Hardware Geek

TS Addict
Good move getting rid of them, old technology
Nowadays there are 3.5" floppy disks available with a hard plastic cover.
Much more durable.
It only will take a while to copy the data from one floppy to the other...
This comment actually made me laugh out loud. Well done!
 

Gus Fring

TS Enthusiast
I work in the financial industry. Banks are still heavily utilizing SNA / 3270 communications to IBM Mainframes. This technology was made in 1974 and... it hasn't really been updated since then. We're talking full blown greenscreen text entry. What's SNA? It was a thing before TCP took over. https://www.ibm.com/support/knowledgecenter/zosbasics/com.ibm.zos.znetwork/znetwork_151.htm
Yeah but IBM and others (HITACHI) still make modern mainframes.
The real reason they are retiring the floppy disks is two-fold
The people who know what they are and how to use them are dying off/dead
Their Bulk order for 82million from CostCo is coming to an end (SSD's are more expensive therefore more room for padding)
Altho the controllers inside SSD's are quite often based on ARM CPU's, so quite hackable . Supposedly been done already by "agencys" ..
 

jobeard

TS Ambassador
I work in the financial industry. Banks are still heavily utilizing SNA / 3270 communications to IBM Mainframes. This technology was made in 1974 and... it hasn't really been updated since then. We're talking full blown greenscreen text entry. What's SNA? It was a thing before TCP took over. https://www.ibm.com/support/knowledgecenter/zosbasics/com.ibm.zos.znetwork/znetwork_151.htm
TCP predated SNA:

  • By mid-1968, Roberts had prepared a complete plan for the computer network and gave a report to Taylor on June 3, who approved it on June 21. After approval by ARPA, a Request for Quotation (RFQ) was issued for 140 potential bidders.

SNA was entirely internal to the Mainframe network and the local site infrastructure. The Big Blue environment is still stuck with the 3270 terminal and thus also stuck with SNA. All data is synchronous and almost always in Token Ring architecture.

To extend beyond the local site, SNA 3274 drops into a TCP interface to reach the remote 3274. The original TCP (the follow-on name of ARPA net) was over local phone lines and between non-local and even heterogeneous system types. TCP, is asynchronous, packet switching on a contention architecture.
 

gamerk2

TS Evangelist
Simpler system means less attack surface. If only software firms of today understood that...
I hear that; I had to work with a legacy Windows 3.11 PC, and it was shut down by our site admins recently for "security" concerns. Nevermind the PC was the most secure thing on site; unless you have a (working) IOmega Zip disk, you ain't getting anything off that machine.
 

Jimothy

TS Rookie
I presume the computer is connected only to the launch controls and not to anything on the network or internet. The room would be in a hardened bunker with EM shielding on any cables going in/out. That should be enough to harden it from EMP. I also presume the largest risks are of either blackmailing one of the operators and/or installing a virus that takes control of the PC / SSD. To any spies out there, I suggest dropping a few infected USB drives in the nuclear launch site car park. That usually works.
Except that a system with 8inch drives from the 70's is not going to have a USB port!!!
 

lazer

TS Addict
I have seen many businesses still running XP since thier business depends on using proprietary software and to upgrade would mean spending more money to get no real benefit.

or as they say down in Dixie, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".....

(save your Dixie cups, the South will rise again!)
 

RebelFlag

TS Addict
Let me see........are you saying the same people who are paying for the USS Ford aircraft carrier that's costing them 14 billion, is 3 years behind schedule and bigly over budget, have no money left to upgrade floppy drives???
Ok, sorry, I can't help it......."bigly"?????
 

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