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US agencies still using ancient technology, including 8-inch floppy disks for nuclear weapon systems

By midian182 ยท 35 replies
May 26, 2016
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  1. Despite cutbacks and conflicts that have stretched resources, the US is still ranked as the undisputed world leader when it comes to military strength and technology. So it comes as quite a surprise to learn that the Pentagon still uses 1970’s IBM Series-1 computers – complete with eight-inch floppy disks – as part of the nation’s nuclear weapons systems.

    A recent report from the Government Accountability Office revealed that the Pentagon was one of several government agencies still using ancient “legacy systems,” which include Windows 3.1., COBOL and Fortran programming languages, and 40-year-old computers.

    “Legacy IT investments across the federal government are becoming increasingly obsolete,” stated the report. “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.”

    Taxpayers are paying $61 billion a year to maintain these old systems, about three-fourths of the government's technology budget.

    The DoD’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System for nuclear forces, which uses the IBM series 1s, is due to be upgraded. "This system remains in use because, in short, it still works," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt Col Valerie Henderson told the AFP news agency.

    "However, to address obsolescence concerns, the floppy drives are scheduled to be replaced with secure digital devices by the end of 2017," Henderson added. The Pentagon is planning to completely replace the system by the end of 2020.

    The US Treasury is another department still using technology from the mid to late twentieth century. The report said the Internal Revenue Service's master file of taxpayer data is written in assembly language code initially used in the 1950s.

    Aging systems are also found in the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, State, and Veterans Affairs. Not all the technology was as ancient as eight-inch floppy disks, though; some of the agencies were found to be running the comparatively cutting-edge Windows XP.

    "The federal government is years and in some cases decades behind the private sector," said Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "Taxpayers deserve a government that leverages technology to serve them, rather than one that deploys insecure, decades-old technology that places their sensitive and personal information at risk."

    Permalink to story.

  2. yRaz

    yRaz TS Evangelist Posts: 2,146   +1,223

    Here's an idea, let's upgrade it all and connect it to a network where it can be hacked. That older tech is probably safer than any new tech considering any computer made in the last 20 years lacks the protocols to communicate with it.

    But, you know, let's replace everything with SD cards, one of the most notoriously insecure mediums around. Why don't we just make a Facebook app to control it and call it a day
  3. Use Windows 10 and the Cloud, that's a sure win
    jauffins likes this.
  4. risc32

    risc32 TS Addict Posts: 209   +96

    And I hope it stays this way.
    I'd rather not have some Chinese or eastern European hacking this stuff.
  5. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,161   +548

    Just as with a lot of parents these days, knowing how to write in cursive, and their children can't even read it,
    there is something to be said about using an older computer. When's the last time you saw or used an 8"
    floppy disk? Not to mention its all most likely written in machine assembly language.
    bluto 2050 and SuperVeloce like this.
  6. SirGCal

    SirGCal TS Maniac Posts: 365   +136

    Do not @#$% with the WOPR!

    War Operation Plan Response
  7. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,167   +3,261

    And the irony of this is they are probably more secure, especially from millennials. Just think recent hardware would require automatic updates, that would automatically launch those nuclear weapons on the next update.
    bluto 2050 and wastedkill like this.
  8. herbalfire

    herbalfire TS Enthusiast Posts: 43

    I thought the exact same thing
  9. HamRadioGuy

    HamRadioGuy TS Rookie Posts: 19

    A large number of business applications running today are still based on COBOL. While the programming language was originally written 40+ years ago, it has been tweaked and updated continuous over the years, just like computers today are much more evolved than they were 40+ years ago. IBM recently released V6.1 of their Enterprise COBOL for z/OS (mainframes, which are still required to process large volumes of data much quicker than any PC server can). Most businesses find it far more cost effective to continue using their proven applications rather than spend large sums of money unnecessarily to install a new system, convert all their data, re-train all their employees, only then to have to find and fix all the bugs in the new application to get it to be as reliable as their existing application.
  10. Heavy Man Crush

    Heavy Man Crush TS Rookie Posts: 16   +6

    They should make a Chrome extension for launching nukes!
  11. tonylukac

    tonylukac TS Evangelist Posts: 1,362   +67

    Last edited: May 26, 2016
  12. yRaz

    yRaz TS Evangelist Posts: 2,146   +1,223

    Why not internet explore!
  13. amghwk

    amghwk TS Addict Posts: 149   +54

    Techspot, as a tech website should be more encompassing when writing an article.

    The tone and the content reflects a lack of knowledge and ignorance towards responsible reporting. Not just writing titles which are mere clickbaits.

    Technology is good, but it must also be safe. Now, with everything going online, nothing is as safe as before. Everything is hackable when laid out in front of enthusiastic hackers... who just need a form of computer and online access.

    The day Pentagon move towards online connectivity, they open themselves to immediate online threats.

    Techspot must remember that this is the age of cyber warfare.
    BSim500 and SuperVeloce like this.
  14. Ben Myers

    Ben Myers TS Enthusiast Posts: 35   +11

    Well, yes, everything is hackable. But this ancient hardware can crash and burn. If there are no spare parts available, then what? Isn't there the possibility to port these programs to a newer computer, or, better still, run them in emulation mode on fast PC hardware. I know that DEC PDP or VAX emulators exist, and they run the old software perfectly on newer hardware. A modern multi-core PC is thousands of times faster than these old dinosaurs used by the DoD, so emulation may even run faster than the original.

    The risk here is that the hardware fails and there are not any spare parts any more. Or maybe the 8" floppies wear out and develop bad spots.
  15. yRaz

    yRaz TS Evangelist Posts: 2,146   +1,223

    Well I just love trolling the community here. Anyone who actually cares about tech news reads AndAnTech and Wired anyway. I love the community, just not the news. You should join us sometime, it's a blast here. It's the internet equivalent of a bar!
  16. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,506   +2,299

    This is the best news I've heard regarding the military, our atomic weapons stockpile, and the enduring quality of good old Yankee technical know how I've heard in years! I think we should fire off a couple of low yield devices at North Korea just to celebrate Memorial Day!
  17. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 1,519   +513

    FORTRAN is far from an ancient language. In fact, go to any super computing center anywhere in the world and you will almost certainly find FORTRAN. There is even a NEW variant of FORTRAN called CUDA FOTRAN meant to run, as you almost certainly guessed, on nVidia GPGPUs. https://developer.nvidia.com/cuda-fortran

    As I see it, when any article mentions FORTRAN as an ancient language or technology, I have to question the article itself, and in this case, Jason Chaffetz.

    What I think Jason Chaffetz does not realize is that in some cases, updating to the latest "stuff" brings with it all the vulnerabilities of the latest "stuff".

    Upgrading just because it is old is not, IMO, a valid reason for upgrading in this sector where these computers are, essentially, mission critical. If there are and have been notable problems with the existing tech, then ABSOLUTELY consider an upgrade IF it will solve the problems. However, don't just sensationalize the fact that the tech is old. As I see it, this is just another effort by Jason Chaffetz to make it look like he is doing something.
  18. I've always called it "Internet Exploder" might have real meaning in this context LOL
    captaincranky and cliffordcooley like this.
  19. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,506   +2,299

    I think I'll start calling it, "The HM$ Malware Trawler". It lacks the pun value, but comes straight to the purpose...

    Just think though, Hillary Clinton would be able to rule the world from her private email server. And who among us would have the ballz to tell her that was illegal? :eek::eek::eek:
  20. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,167   +3,261

    Bill is two faced, but I think he even draws a line there. haha
  21. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,506   +2,299

    If nothing else, they should re-cap all the boards, and spring for some new floppies, as I wouldn't trust the magnetic emulsion binder on 50 year old discs, and call it a day!
  22. yRaz

    yRaz TS Evangelist Posts: 2,146   +1,223

    I'm pretty sure doctors can now fix a 50 year old floppy not working.
  23. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,167   +3,261

    The whole system could possibly be replaced with a $35 Raspberry Pi and a $2 MicroSD.
  24. yRaz

    yRaz TS Evangelist Posts: 2,146   +1,223

    Yeah, lets just make the whole American nuclear program open source......
    bluto 2050 likes this.
  25. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,506   +2,299

    So too, pretty much, can the Ukrainian porn industry...... and yeah, maybe with a little boost from a prescription pad.
    Yeah, it could also be replaced with an iPhone, and boy what a boost you'd get in status. :cool: The trouble is, all you'd have then, is a version of Atari "Missile Command", that does nothing but take pictures of itself all day...:oops:
    bluto 2050 and cliffordcooley like this.

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